KANSAS CITY — The Battle football team struggles to contain the run.
Those struggles first reared their head in Week 3, when the Spartans allowed Rock Bridge's Nate Peat to rush for 246 yards in a 48-28 loss. They came back when Hickman rushed for 189 first-half yards against Battle in Week 6.
Rockhurst (6-1), in Week 7, almost immediately picked up on this defensive flaw on Friday night, and the Hawklets used it to their advantage.
Rockhurst's Luke Boehm threw an incompletion over the middle on the Hawklets' first play, and then they went to the run on the next 10 plays, ending their drive with a 7-yard touchdown from running back Michael Johnson.
The Spartans didn't have much more success defending Rockhurst's attack the rest of the night, allowing over 400 all-purpose yards and four rushing touchdowns as Battle (4-3) fell to the Hawklets, 28-0.
"We knew we had a dogfight on our hands tonight with a great football team," Battle coach Justin Conyers said. "It's just real tough whenever you can't find a rhythm. Hats off to them. They played extremely, extremely well."
On offense, the Spartans began with a roller coaster of a first drive behind quarterback Jaren Lewis.
On third down, Lewis looked off his receivers, tucked the ball and found an opening around the right side for a 17-yard gain. Two plays later, Lewis tried to find a receiver deep again on third down, but Rockhurst picked it off and took over on its own 22.
Eleven plays and 78 yards later, Johnson punched in his first touchdown of the day to put Battle in an early 7-0 hole.
The next few drives in the first quarter were filled with the Spartans' inability to capitalize on opportunities.
Battle, for example, wasted a 19-yard reception from Tavian Miller as the team could only muster five yards on the next three plays and was forced to punt. The Spartans recovered a fumble from Rockhurst's Lance Shelton seven plays later, but again Battle went three-and-out.
Just as the second quarter started, the Spartans' deficit grew. A 54-yard reception from Carter Elder took the Hawklets to the red zone, and Johnson ran in an 8-yard touchdown on the very next play to make it a 14-0 game.
Battle punted on each of its next three possessions while Shelton ran in a touchdown of his own to put Rockhurst up 21 at the half. But the Spartans' defense brought a change in attitude heading out of the break.
"People view us that our defense gives up a lot of points, and we just got tired of that," defensive back Jaylon Williamson said. "Second half, we came out just going to do our part, let defense do the talking, and we came out hitting."
The defense put that attitude to work, forcing the Hawklets into their first punt of the night to open up the half.
But again, the offense couldn't put any of that good fortune to use.
Battle converted two first downs on the next drive, including a 30-yard connection between Lewis and Torian Palmer, but three incompletions and a tackle for a loss gave the ball back. The Hawklets were the ones to take advantage, marching the ball 54 yards the other way for another touchdown.
"We got some good drives offensively. We just couldn't finish," Conyers said. "That's kind of the story of the night."
To begin the fourth, Lewis saw Drew Gillig a step ahead of his defender down the left sideline and lofted a ball in the air, but Gillig couldn't corral it in the end zone. Just over a minute later, Lewis again almost found Gillig for what would have been about a 20-yard completion, but Gillig was lit up by a defender and the ball sailed out of bounds.
For Conyers, those two plays are symbols for the challenge his team faced in Rockhurst's defense.
"That's how hard it was to come by anything today. They were (in) tight coverage, playing man all night long," Conyers said. "This defense of Rockhurst doesn't give you anything. You have to earn every single yard that you get."
While it was tough for Lewis to get anything in the air, it was even tougher for Battle to get yards on the ground. Lewis, Darren Jordan and Daleshaun Coleman combined for just 72 yards on the night, by far the lowest total for the trio this season.
The Spartans had one last chance to score with less than three minutes left and the ball in the Hawklets' red zone, but a goal-line stand kept Battle off the board, and the Spartans headed back to Columbia with their third loss of the year.
Battle will host Jefferson City in its last home game of the regular season at 7 p.m. next Friday.
Supervising editor is Michael Knisley.