The J.H. Rose football team runs onto the field for their first home game of the season Aug. 24.
By Mike Grizzard
In a grueling 3-8 season a year ago, perhaps nothing staggered J.H. Rose more than an early-season home loss to Wilson Hunt.
Phifer Ozimek clearly remembers the somber feeling walking off of Percy Daniels Field after an interception in the end zone by Jadequis Liles sealed the Warriors’ 23-20 overtime victory.
“That definitely was a downer in the season losing to them,” Ozimek said. “I remember being really disappointed. Everybody was sad. People were quitting after that. It was a big loss.”
A dose of payback will be on the agenda Friday night when the Rampants make their third stop on what is playing out to be redemption road, heading west on U.S. 264 for a rematch with Hunt. Rose already has checked off revenge against a couple of Wilmington opponents, routing New Hanover (49-6) and Laney (34-6).
A year ago, the Rampants suffered blowout losses to New Hanover (69-21) and Laney (39-12) to start the season.
“I think definitely the first two games, our mindset was definitely payback,” senior Wesley Shade said. “What they did to us, New Hanover coming to our field and doing what they did and then going to Laney and back to back getting smoked. It’s definitely in our heads, especially us seniors that played last year, kind of payback and give them what they deserve.”
Rose and Hunt each enter Friday’s game with 2-0 records. The Warriors opened with a 34-31 win over Eastern Wayne and shut out Hertford County 14-0 last week. With mighty Havelock looming next week, Ozimek knows Rose can’t afford to peer ahead.
“We’re focused on Hunt, but it’s hard not to look ahead,” he said. “Looking at that New Bern score (77-13), I feel like that will be a big test to see how good we actually are.”
Hunt’s run-dominated approach should provide a test for a stout Rose defense that has held both of its opponents under 200 total yards. Junior running back TyQuez Taylor has rushed for 291 yards on 39 carries in two games, including a 230-yard effort against Eastern Wayne. Zyquez Grooms also eclipsed 100 yards against Eastern Wayne with 104 on 12 carries.
“They’re a run-heavy team, and they do a little bit different from what we’ve seen so far,” Rose coach Dave Wojtecki said. “You’re always going to question how you’re going to respond to that because you don’t see it very often. I like where we are right now defensively. We’re playing hard. We’re working hard in practice.”
Despite the two convincing wins, Wojtecki sees much room for improvement. He especially wants consistency for four quarters.
“We haven’t played a full game yet,” he said. “We’ve had a good half at New Hanover. We had a good third quarter here against Laney. I’d like to see us play a whole game. That’s what we’re going to try to preach to the kids about. We’re not worried about what anybody else is doing. We need to worry about what we do.”
A dramatic improvement on defense has relieved some of that worry. Shade leads Rose with 13 tackles. Silas James, Chris Smith and Trey Williams have 10 each, and Ozimek had nine (seven solos).
Shade also has contributed to a Rose offense with multiple threats, coming up with five receptions for 84 yards, including a pair of touchdowns last week. He also handles punts and point-after kicks.
“I wouldn’t really want it any other way,” he said. “I want to be on the field as much as I can, do as much as I can, help the team in as many ways as possible.”
Senior quarterback Grant Charles Jarman directs the Rose offense and is off to a solid start, completing 31 of 49 passes for 409 yards with eight touchdowns and one interception. Senior Ben Harris has a team-high seven receptions for 82 yards despite missing the final three quarters of last week’s game with an injury. Jake Henry Rogers has four catches for 155 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Senior Grant Humphreys, a receiver and backup quarterback last year, has stepped into the starting running back spot and churned out 149 yards and one touchdown on 23 carries. Three of his four catches also have resulted in scores.
Rose had little trouble moving the ball against Hunt last year but self-destructed with 12 penalties and four turnovers. Shade knows the Rampants can’t have a repeat performance and let Hunt hang around.
“We almost ran into that last week against Laney,” he said. “We didn’t really, as Coach Wo would say, step on their throats and kind of put them away early so they don’t have that hope.”
Mike Grizzard of Winterville has more than 30 years of experience as a writer for both print and digital publications in the areas of sports, business, news, faith and personal profiles. Contact Mike at 252-916-4206.