Racine Raiders Soar to Victory: A Dominant Display Against Huntsville Rockets in GDFL Playoff Clash

by Charles Thompson

Racine, WI-A warm and windy August evening near the shores of Lake Michigan welcomed the Huntsville Rockets (7-2), surprising winners over the Columbus (OH) Fire one week ago, to Historic Horlick Athletic Field for a GDFL Divisional Playoff contest against the Racine Raiders (9-0 GDFL).  The 5th seeded Rockets made the 600+ mile journey to Racine, WI in quest of another upset, and a possible “Cinderella story” through the post-season tournament.  The Xtreme Midwest Division champion Racine Raiders hosted their second ever GDFL playoff game – the first coming a week prior during a 43-0 victory over the Tri City Outlaws from Tennessee - and almost 1,000 fans turned out to see this playoff game.

In a stunning display of gridiron prowess, the Racine Raiders left fans astounded as they secured a commanding 41-10 victory over the Huntsville Rockets in a scintillating GDFL playoff showdown that will surely go down in football history. Under the warm, windswept August skies, the Raiders showcased their mettle and determination, leaving no doubt that they are a force to be reckoned with as they advance further in their playoff journey.

Both teams entered the contest with high hopes and unyielding determination, but it was the Rockets who jumped out to an early 3-0 lead, after intercepting an Andre Locke pass – only his sixth of the entire season – and kicking a 34 yard FG less than five minutes into the game.  The teams traded possessions throughout the first quarter as both defenses delivered tremendous pressure from high quality pass rushes, and intense run stop effort.  However, Racine got on the scoreboard with 1:29 remaining in the first quarter when Andre Locke, Sr. completed at 14-yard touchdown pass to Dillon Flores.

Racine’s offense began to hit its stride in the second quarter, led by the dynamic passing combination of QB Locke (15-25, 195 yds, 4 TDs, 2 INTs), and WR Joe Garcia III (7 catches, 110 yds, 1 TD) who orchestrated a symphony of precision and creativity that left the Rockets' defense in disarray.  

The Raiders' dominance on the ground was equally impressive, as a “running back by committee” approach amassed 158 yards on the ground and bulldozed through the Rockets' defensive line with a combination of power and finesse that had fans in awe. Raider running backs – Sean White (11 carries for 61 yds), Tom Benko (6-39 and 1 TD), Gregory Kennedy (6-28), and Darrell James (4-21) – collectively averaged over 5.5 yards per carry and picked up key first downs throughout the second and third quarters.  The Raider offensive line’s ability to create holes in the defense and openings for substantial gains not only kept the chains moving but also frustrated the Rockets' defensive unit.

As the first half progressed, the Raiders' defense emerged as a formidable wall, making life exceptionally difficult for the Huntsville Rockets' offensive unit which only rushed for 2.0 yards per carry with 51 yards rushing total. Led by veteran linebacker Justin Benko, whose instinctual reads and bone-crunching tackles set the tone for the entire defense, the Raiders kept the Rockets' running game in check.  

The wind that swept across the field played a strategic role in the game, as both teams had to adjust their passing and kicking strategies to account for its unpredictable nature. The Raiders' coaching staff, known for their adaptability, harnessed this weather factor to their advantage, employing a mix of short, precise passes and well-timed deep shots that kept the Rockets' defense guessing at every turn.  Four different Raider receivers caught touchdown passes: Dillon Flores, Joe Garcia, Will Norwood, and Rico Flores (brother of D. Flores).  In all, nine different receivers caught at least one pass during the game as the Raider offense dissected the Rocket secondary in the middle quarters of the game.

As the second half commenced, the Raiders' lead was 21-3, and their hunger for victory remained unquenched. They continued to execute their game plan, piling on points with surgical precision. The Rockets, despite their valiant efforts, found it increasingly difficult to claw their way back into contention.

The Huntsville Rockets did manage to find the end zone once, as their defense rose to the challenge.  Huntsville’s Terry Tiller intercepted replacement QB Mitch Farr’s pass on the first play of the 4th quarter, returning it 28 yards for a pick-six to make the score 28-10.  Any hopes of a comeback were quickly dashed, as Raiders’ speedster Corey Dalton took the ensuing kickoff at the 15-yard line and didn’t stop until he was in the north endzone celebrating with fans and teammates.  The kick by Alex Gonzalez was missed to make the score 34-10 less than a minute into the final period of play.

Energized by Dalton’s electric return, the Racine defense once again unleashed its ferocious pass rush and crushing run support on the Rockets’ offense.  Sacks were recorded by outside linebacker Aarion Ivy and defensive lineman Willie Clay, but as is the case for the entirety of this 2023 campaign the entire defense’s ability to function as a cohesive unit is its strength.

As the final minutes ticked away, the electrifying atmosphere in the stadium was a testament to the Raiders' supremacy on that warm, windy August evening. Fans erupted in cheers and applause, celebrating not only the team's victory but also the indomitable spirit they displayed throughout the game. Coaches, players, and supporters alike recognized the significance of this triumph—a clear statement that the Racine Raiders are a force to be reckoned with as they continue their march through the GDFL playoffs.