Keller High School football TD from WR Nick Rocha
It doesn’t come as any surprise to Keller junior quarterback Hayden Anderson when his go-to wide receiver, senior Nick Rocha, makes a tough catch in a tight window look easy.
“It’s Nick, I like the way that he goes,” Anderson said. “He always on every time that he gets the ball thrown to him. I like his hands.”
Rocha had touchdown receptions of 10 and 11 yards in tight coverage and caught a 43-yarder in the fourth quarter that set up Anderson’s third total touchdown on a 27-yard run in Keller’s 22-7 non-district victory over Grand Prairie on Thursday night at Keller ISD Stadium.
“He’s diming me up,” Rocha said of Anderson’s passes. “I’m going to go up and get it.”
Anderson’s three touchdowns helped Keller (2-1) to overcome a slow start in which it was flagged for one false start and two encroachment penalties on the game’s first two series.
Grand Prairie (0-3) overcame a 15-yard personal foul penalty of its own on its initial drive to produce the game’s first points on a 31-pass play from Hugo Vidal to Da’Maetthew McGhee on a 3rd-down-and-21 play for a 7-0 Gophers lead after Manuel Marquez’s extra-point kick with 7:50 remaining in the first quarter.
Missed opportunities prevented the Gophers from expanding their lead. Josh Azakytu fell on a fumble as Keller was driving inside the Grand Prairie 25-yard line on the ensuing Indians possession, but a sack of Vidal by the Indians’ Caleb Nichter and Richard Silva on fourth down six plays later ended that Gopher drive. Grand Prairie threw an interception on the fifth play in the second quarter and, shortly thereafter, had a 36-yard field goal attempt hit the upright and then pushed a 32-yarder wide left with 12 seconds left in the first half.
“They ran something that we had not seen them do,” Keller coach Carl Stralow said of Grand Prairie’s first touchdown. “But, other teams have done it in the first two games. We didn’t react real well to it on the first drive. But, I’m proud of the kids. They played hard and adjusted, and, obviously, didn’t allow another score the rest of the game.”
Keller sophomore Zach O’Day helped to keep Grand Prairie out of the end zone early in the second quarter when he had the first of two Indians interceptions on the night. Eleven plays later, Rocha caught a 10-yard TD pass from Anderson in the back end of the end zone, tying the score at 7-7. Enoch Ntchobo set up the score with seven bruising runs as part of a long and methodical drive for the Indians.
“The whole spring and summer, we’ve been working together,” Rocha said of his on-field chemistry with Rocha. “We had a couple of 7-on-7 tournaments and we played here. We definitely put in the work.”
Ntchobo’s hard running all night helped to keep the chains moving for Keller and to wear out a Grand Prairie defense that yielded 182 yards on 34 carries to the Indians senior tailback.
Grand Prairie senior tailback Tylexis Straughter gave the Gophers ample opportunities with his quick bursts to keep his squad in striking distance but they were unable to find the end zone again despite his 112 rushing yards on just 12 carries.
Keller did a much better job of limiting the big plays in the second half as the Indians defense held Grand Prairie to just 79 yards of offense over the final 24 minutes of game time which included an interception by Tyler Atkison on the fourth play in the third quarter.
“In the locker room at halftime, we really got fired up,” O’Day said. “It was a new game. It feels great to allow (seven points). We shouldn’t have allowed any.”
And when Keller needed a big play to claim its first lead it again came courtesy of Rocha who jumped in the air in the middle of the end zone on an 11-yard pass play from Anderson with 2:39 left in the third quarter for a 14-7 Indians lead.
The Indians iced the game when Rocha came back to a high pass from Anderson in the middle of the fourth quarter for a 43-yard gain that moved the ball to the Gopher 25, and two plays later, Anderson ran the keeper 27 yards for his third score.
“It was a great feeling,” Rocha said. “After three years on the varsity, I feel like I’ve really stepped up to the plate. I really stepped up to the plate in this game.”
Keller opens district play Sept. 27 at Southlake Carroll while Grand Prairie looks to notch its first win of the season next Friday at home against Cedar Hill.
“The team’s mind-set is right going into this, but it’s going to get harder and harder,” Rocha said. “We still have a ton of things to work on. We have a whole bye week to prepare for Carroll. And, we’re going to get right to it.”