Here it is, Royal, who’d been scarcely allowing first downs much less points, finally surrenders not one but three touchdowns against rival Connell. It should be noted that only one of those TDs came against the defense. Connell returned a kick for a score and pick-six.
We in the WCL know a thing about rivalries, but the Royal-Connell rivalry is on another level. In the far-flung SCAC, Royal and Connell are the closest in proximity. Moreover, this game is a de facto state semifinals eliminator every year. Hell, last year they played each in the state finals.
Through six weeks, the Royal High School football team had outclassed and outplayed every unit that dare line up across from it.
No one gave Connell that memo.
The Eagles had a counter for everything, scoring three touchdowns against a team that had previously allowed just three points on the season, and bending but not breaking time and time again on defense.
But in the end, the Knights proved worthy of their top ranking in the state, outlasting the Eagles for a 24-21 victory in a battle of unbeaten SCAC East foes on Friday at David Nielsen Stadium in Royal City.
“We’re definitely getting better, and now everyone in the state knows we’re for real,” said Wayne Riner, coach of the No. 2-ranked Eagles (6-1, 4-1). “We gave them a heck of a fight, but they’re just so defensively tough.”
The game was a rematch of the 2016 Class 1A state title game — which Royal won 25-10 — and all but guaranteed the Knights (7-0, 5-0) another league championship as they look to defend their back-to-back state titles. Royal also beat Connell in Week 7 last year, 28-21 in Connell.
With Connell graduating four of the most dynamic players in the SCAC — quarterback Brian Hawkins, running back Jaxs Lee, tight end Steven Kroontje and wide receiver Caleb Price — and a veteran Royal team having outscored its opponents 330-3 through the first six weeks of the season, this game seemed like it could have been more lopsided than last year’s clashes.