It has been an interesting week for the winless Rockvale Rockets football program. Not only has the program and Head Coach Rick Rice been under national scrutiny over a recent complaint filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Rockets have also had to prepare for a game against the No. 1 Oakland Patriots.
Because of the national attention surrounding the complaint and the ensuing outpouring of support for Rice, Friday night's matchup felt a lot more like a community rally than a football game.
The game was a mismatch of epic proportions as Rockvale's football program in its inaugural season was blown out 56-7 on its homefield. Oakland scored with relative ease throughout the evening.
"We know we're playing the No. 1 team in the state, the 25th-ranked team in the nation, but we actually had a great week of practice," said Coach Rice following the game.
"We had fun this week. I felt we got better in a couple things. That's what you always want to do against a team like Oakland. It wasn't a wasted week," Rice continued.
On a night that didn't have too many highlights for the Rockets, sophomore running back Grayson Smith got the Rockets on the board late in the fourth quarter with an electrifying 35-yard touchdown run, breaking multiple tackles near the line against Oakland's second-team defense.
"Coach Creasy had a lot of his young kids in there, and he showed a lot of class. We appreciate that." Rice continued, "But if we score against Oakland, we can score against anybody no matter what situation it is. [The touchdown] was something to build on."
Smith's touchdown was a feel-good moment in a week that had many challenges. In addition to having nine starters out due to injury, Rockvale had the monumental task of preparing for Oakland while dealing with the outside distraction of the complaint which stemmed from Coach Rice leading the team in prayer following games earlier in the season.
Hundreds of students and fans showed up in support of Coach Rice. Many from the Rockvale community engaged in a time of prayer outside the gate leading to the field 30-minutes prior to game time. Fans wore T-shirts and held signs of support and some students donned body paint with the phrase "Rice Up and Pray."
There was also a moment during the week when some in the student body gave Coach Rice a standing ovation in the cafeteria as he collected trash from the tables.
Rice was appreciative of the support.
"No doubt it makes you feel good. It makes you feel like you're doing the right thing, like you're making an impact."
Rice continued, "I'm not perfect, I just try to be good to my kids and my coaches as well. I'm just proud to be here, proud to be part of Rockvale."