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Thunder rumble, but fall to Yellow Jackets

Thunder running back Javon Chappell carries the ball during Saturday’s game against the Rochester Yellow Jackets at Cloquet’s Bromberg Field. The Thunder defense slowed Rochester’s offense throughout the game, with Rochester clinging to a 15-14 lead early in the fourth quarter. A late touchdown in the fourth quarter by Rochester produced the final score of Rochester 22, Thunder 14. Jana Peterson/ 1 / 4
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A pair of one-win teams met in community college football in Cloquet on Saturday when the Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College Thunder hooked up with the Rochester Community and Technical College Yellow Jackets. The Yellow Jackets had just enough sting to come away with a 22-14 victory as RCTC improved to 2-3, while the Thunder dropped to 1-5 on the season.

After giving up a safety early in the first quarter, the Thunder bounced back with an 11-play, 74-yard drive midway through the second quarter that culminated in a Joseph Jordan 1-yard touchdown run, giving FDLTCC a 6-2 lead after the extra point kick failed.

“We had some nice holes created by our offensive line in that drive,” said Kevin Haley, offensive coordinator and assistant head coach for the Thunder. “That also led to some nice yardage for Darion Grinder and Javon Chappell in that drive. We had a complete drive that led to the score and there were no penalties and once we were inside the red zone we finished the drive with a score.”

The problems for the Thunder reared up late in the second quarter and early in the third quarter when the Yellow Jackets picked up back-to-back touchdowns. The first touchdown came right before halftime, when Conner Watts nabbed a Jamal Stovall pass for an 8-yard score, making it 9-6 after the extra point kick heading into halftime.

“Giving up the touchdown in the last minute of the half was tough and it was compounded by another touchdown to start the third quarter,” said head coach Terry Fawcett. “They were able to hit on a few longer passes and our pass rush wasn’t good enough.”

On the opening drive of the second half, the Yellow Jackets went up 15-6 when Stovall found Elray Duncan open for a 17-yard score. Dylan Stetter’s kick was blocked, giving the Thunder hope that they still had a chance to come back.

Jordan Miller made that hope a reality when he caught a 25-yard pass from Joseph Jordan for a score, cutting the lead to 15-14 after a two-point conversion pass by Miller.

Rochester quelled the talk of a comeback when Stovall hit Troy Bitterle on an 8-yard pass for his third touchdown pass of the game, making it 22-14 after Stetter nailed the extra point kick.

The Thunder continued to get solid play on special teams from punter Dalton Bryant.

“Bryant is a big time punter,” said Fawcett. “I’ve never been around a kid this good. The sky is the limit with him.”

The lack of pass rush hurt the Thunder all game long as Stovall racked up 286 passing yards to go along with three touchdowns for the Yellow Jackets. For the game, the Yellow Jackets put up 372 yards of total offense and they averaged 4.89 yards per play compared to 151 total yards for the Thunder and an average of 1.91 yards gained per play.

“Our linebackers Rodney Jones and Jeff Andrew continue to lead the defense,” Fawcett said. “Damon Garner also played well both ways and he leads by example. Our guys busted their tails to the end of the game, but we are not where we want to be as a team or a program.”

Saturday’s game was the final home game of the season for the Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College football team. Next week the Thunder will look for win number two on the road at Itasca Community College in Grand Rapids. The following week they will take on Minnesota West.

“We need 60 dedicated team players to be successful,” said Fawcett. “We have a good core group of kids to build our program.”