This was not the way Roncalli coach Bruce Scifres envisioned starting his 25th season of coaching the Rebels.
While the Class 4A No. 7 Rebels played well at times, host Class 6A No. 8 Southport’s size and opportune playmaking gave them a 27-13 season-opening win.
Size, or lack of it, and experience may have concerned Scifres, but the Rebels’ grit was never in doubt.
“We found out that this group will play with heart,” Scifres said. “We knew we were undersized, but we did a good job against one of the best teams in the state. We made it interesting.”
Especially after Southport engineered a 10-play, 65-yard opening drive that culminated with a two-yard touchdown pass from junior Luke Johnston to James Wright. Southport also scored on a 56-yard run by Cardell Tucker.
Once the Rebels got the ball it was clear Roncalli missed senior running back Colin McManama, who tore his left ACL during the first week of practice.
McManama led the Rebels in rushing last year, and one of the answers Scifres was looking for was who would try to replace him.
One answer could have been junior back Nate Fries, who finished with 58 yards, but what may have been a pleasant surprise was the Rebels’ passing game.
Roncalli used two quarterbacks, senior Casey Gore and junior Robbie Strader.
They combined for 152 yards.
However, it was the Rebels’ special teams that got them on the board as senior Luke Alfery took the second half kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. Momentum was clearly on the Rebels’ side at that point, as they recovered the kickoff and made it count when Gavin Taylor caught a 26-yard touchdown pass from Strader.
That was it, though, for the Rebels.
Southport answered when Johnston hit Evan Higgs for two scores of 59 and 87 yards.
Mistakes didn’t help Roncalli, as it had a blocked field goal and extra point, two interceptions and a lost fumble.
“We had breakdowns here and there,” Scifres said. “But we threw with some effectiveness. It’s just we fell short on capitalizing on some drives.
“We’re going to have to clean a few things up in the coming week.”
Johnston was steady, throwing for a game-high 240 yards and three touchdowns as the Cardinals extended their regular season win streak to 10 games.
Roncalli’s on the road against next week at Franklin Central.