RICHMOND — In the days leading up to Saturday's Class 4A second-round playoff game against Genoa-Kingston, Richmond-Burton sophomore linebacker Nick Legnaioli was repeatedly told he had one pass coverage duty.
"When we watched film of them, we knew they liked to roll out and throw to their tight ends or tailbacks in the flat," Legnaioli said. "My coaches literally told me I had to cover that one specific type of pass play, and that's it."
The play he studied so extensively in practice happened early in the third quarter Saturday, with his No. 3-seeded Rockets pitching a shutout, and leading by six over No. 6 Genoa-Kingston.
That's when Cogs' quarterback Justin Peters rolled to his left and tried to find his running back in the flat.
Legnaioli was there waiting. He anticipated and intercepted Peters' throw in stride, then took it 20 yards the other way for the touchdown.
His brilliant play was the turning point in Richmond-Burton's ensuing 19-0 victory. More importantly, it helped push the Rockets in to next week's Class 4A quarterfinal against No. 2-seeded Coal City.
Legnaioli also booted a pair of second-quarter field goals, from 23 and 21 yards.
"Nick's interception seemed to sort of demoralize them, because up until that point in the game, it had been a huge defensive struggle," Rockets' first-year coach Mike Noll said. "Just an absolute momentum-changer and a monster play when we needed it most."
Indeed, yards were hard to come by for both clubs. Neither team had a gain of greater than 22 yards the entire first half. The Rockets held Genoa-Kingston to just 140 yards of total offense, and got QB sacks from James Horner (who also had a fumble recovery), Devin Bailey and Dalton Wood.
Through 11 games, R-B's defense has allowed just 74 total points, and has allowed 21 points or less in every game. They've allowed eight points or fewer nine times. Saturday's win was the Rockets' third shutout this season.
"Just another dominant performance defensively by our guys against a super tough football team," Noll said. "They earned this one. We had a great week of practice, and I thought our assistant coaches Steve (Wood) and Brian (Johnson) did a great job having these kids so well-prepared for every scenario, too."
Richmond-Burton (10-1) wasn't without its own offensive woes at times. The Rockets punted on three of their first four possessions, yet somehow still led, 3-0, more than 20 minutes into the game, with the help of just one first down during that span.
Then, with 1:36 left in the third quarter, and the Rockets up 13-0, senior Mike Kaufman (15 carries, 103 yards) finally found a seam in the middle of his offensive line, cut to the left, then blasted to another level while outrunning defenders 57 yards for the game's final TD.
"This was a battle, an absolute grind," Kaufman said. "We knew it was only a matter of time before we finally wore them down, though. And huge credit to the offensive line on my touchdown, they worked ridiculously hard out there. This was a gritty, gutsy team win."
STAR OF THE GAME
Richmond-Burton, soph., OLB/K
After tallying the game's first six points with his foot, Legnaioli also had a game-changing pick-six early in the second half.
Genoa-Kingston 0 0 0 0 – 0
Richmond-Burton 0 6 13 0 – 19
RB- Legnaioli 23 FG, 11:50
RB- Legnaioli 21 FG, 0:01
RB-Legnaioli 20 interception return, 10:38
RB-Kaufman 57 run (kick failed), 1:36
RUSHING-Richmond-Burton: Kaufman 15-103, Anderson 8-40, Legnaioli 9-28, Wood 8-22, Hutson 1-4, Team yards 2- -minus 2. Totals: 43-195. Genoa-Kingston: Fugate 8-40, Marth 12-31, Peters 4-21, Zweifel 7-7, Rice 3-5, Stojan 1-4, Team yards 3- -minus 13. Totals: 38-95.
PASSING-RIchmond-Burton: Huber 5-6-0-46. Genoa-Kingston: Peters 2-9-2-23, Zweifel 1-1-0-22.
RECEIVING-Richmond-Burton: Bassett 5-46. Genoa-Kingston: Kribs 1-22, Nesler 1-12, Marth 1-11.
TOTAL TEAM YARDS-Richmond-Burton 241, Genoa-Kingston 140