A team that was involved in two of the Racine Raiders’ most stirring games last season is coming to Horlick Field Saturday night.
For the last time.
The Rockton Rush, who edged the Raiders during the regular season last year before losing to them in the playoffs on the game’s last play — both games were at Rockton — are folding after this season. Brian Kelly, who has owned the team since it played its first game in 2003, has overseen a respected organization during his tenure.
As Raiders broadcaster Don Wadewitz noted, “It’s going to be a huge loss for amateur football in our area — not just on the field but off the field as well. It’ll be huge shoes to fill.”
For Kelly, the decision wasn’t difficult.
“I’ve been doing this for 16 years and we have a developmental team called the Revolution and I started a traveling youth team in our area,” Kelly said. “It’s time. When this stops being fun, it’s time.”
Kelly also cited dwindling commitment, saying, “Guys have other commitments with family, work, etc., that should take priority over this. But it’s just a decline.”
The Rush, who are making their first trip to Horlick Field since Sept. 29, 2012, when the Raiders defeated them 55-43 in a Mid-States Football League playoff game, will bring another respectable team to Racine.
Veteran quarterback Brad Dement, who has passed for 851 yards and four touchdowns, leads a pass-oriented offense. He has two favorite receivers in Chris Cooper and Justin Openga.
Cooper has 13 receptions for 233 touchdowns and two touchdowns. Openga (5-109-2) is one touchdown catch away from setting an MSFL career record with 122.
“We like to throw the ball,” Kelly said. “That’s a given.”
The Raiders will try to extend their winning streak to four games, but there’s some issues to work out that are intertwined — identifying a quarterback and correcting a rash of turnovers.
RJ Mattucci, a first-year player with the Raiders, will again get the start at quarterback. His statistics have been impressive — he’s completed 51 of 85 passes for 624 yards, with nine touchdowns and five interceptions — but Kennedy has not been happy with his turnovers. That includes lost fumbles.
Mattucci has not been the only guilty party. Mitchell Farr and D.J. Brown have also had issues with turnovers this season and Kennedy is still waiting for one of them to secure the position.
Considering the Raiders had five turnovers last Saturday in a 23-12 non-league victory over the Muskegon Mustangs, the quarterback position continues to be an ongoing narrative.
“I don’t think there’s any clear-cut favorite yet,” Kennedy said. “One of my biggest pet peeves is not taking care of the football. And when you’re going to force things and put the team at risk, I can’t have that kind of leadership.
“I don’t mind having a gunslinger. But there are times, especially in crucial parts of the game, when you have to protect the football. In the earlier part of the game, I don’t mind a guy taking a chance.”
It was clutch play by a quarterback that gave the Raiders one of their most impressive victories last season. Veteran Anthony Johnson, who retired after last season, threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Chris Hicks on the game’s final play in a 33-31 victory over the Rush in an MSFL semifinal in Rockton.
The Rush had defeated the Raiders 7-0 during the regular season.
“Those are the games I’m going to miss,” Kelly said.
If the Raiders can reduce their turnovers, an impressive defense should take care of the rest. That’s been the case in the Raiders’ three most recent games, all of which were victories.
“If our whole team can come together as one, I feel we can beat anybody,” Raiders cornerback Channing Schultz said. “Even with our losses, we were right there.”