Fulton drops first game

Carie Kuehn/Clinton HeraldFulton senior Larsen Barnett comes down with a complete reception during Fulton’s loss to St. Bede on Aug. 24 at FHS. 

FULTON – The emergence of a rivalry between a pair of programs is often fueled by a series of tight-knit contests. Especially when postseason action is mixed into the conversation.

Not to mention the teams share the same conference.

Fulton and Rockridge are set to meet Friday in Taylor Ridge, a matchup that has all the makings of being an intriguing fourth chapter of an exciting series between the Three Rivers Athletic Conference foes.

The last three meetings between the Steamers and the Rockets have been decided by a combined nine points, including a pair of one-point outcomes. The latest was a regular season contest last September in Rockridge erased a 19-point advantage to earn the victory.

But the game most likely to linger on either sidelines was a Class 2A second-round battle in 2016 where Fulton rallied behind a pair of crucial interceptions to earn a 28-20 win.

Fulton coach Patrick Lower said the games have been intense – and enjoyable – for both the athletes and those wearing the headsets.

"They have all came down to the last play of the game," Lower said. "They have been exciting to watch as a coach and also a bit nerve-wracking but they have fantastic games."

Fulton (1-2) enters the meeting at perhaps its lowest point in the past two seasons, as the team's youth and inexperience is most highlighted by seven sophomore starters and upperclassmen that haven't seen a lot of varsity time.

However, Lower said the Steamers' growth is constantly on full display.

"You can start to see that it is slowing down a little bit for them with big improvement from week to week," Lower said. "Our guys are starting to understand when and where they are supposed to be and their technique.

"I'm really proud of the fact that you can see that they are learning something new on a daily basis... we still have moments where we revert back but we are just trying to get better each day."

Rockridge, on the other hand, enters with a spotless 3-0 record, most recently downing Riverdale 43-14 behind an explosive first half that resulted in all of the Rockets' points.

Quarterback Riley Fetterer enters as the unquestioned leader of the Rockridge offense, a senior with the ability to fluster defenders with both his arms and legs.

It is safe to say the senior has not went unnoticed on Lower's radar.

"He is very dynamic and explosive quarterback," Lower said. "As he goes, they goes and he is pretty special... he is not real big but he is fast and shifty, it's hard to get a hit on him.

"He is probably the best overall player in our conference."

And while youth is a hot-button topic in Fulton, the team still has upperclassmen leadership to help navigate through late-game moments, as Lower pointed to a group of seniors – Kyle Schipper, Max Lemke, Larson Barnett, Nick Mcquistion and Eli Pannell for their performance last week.

"There is a lot of talk about how young we are, but our seniors made a lot of plays down the stretch," Lower said. "I was really proud of our seniors... they did a great job making plays for us in the second half."

Lower says the Steamers are familiar with Rockridge from the flurry of recent meetings but noted the result comes down to how his team responds.

"I feel like we have a really good idea of what they want to offensively and defensively having played them four times in three years," Lower said. "But we have to go down there and execute and that is the hard part."