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Senior Jarrod Rokes (10) of the Keene football team lunges for the end zone during Saturday's game against Merrimack at Alumni Field in Keene.

Keene senior Austin Morris said he and classmate Jarrod Rokes were competing with each other all week at practice. In Keene’s 42-35 win over Merrimack on Saturday, that friendly competition showed.

The two went back-and-forth in the run game, Rokes finishing with 208 yards and three touchdowns and Morris with 156 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

“Me and Jarrod, all week, have been pushing each other,” Morris said. “Jarrod’s actually the one who got me to play football, so it’s nice to have him next to me. Both of us had a heck of a game.”

“Every down we were just pushing as hard as we could,” Rokes said. “All of our backs were putting our heads down and getting as many yards as we can.”

Overall, the Blackbirds rushed for 384 yards, and five of their six touchdowns came on the ground. That’s a testament to the hard-nosed running that Keene showed — fighting for every yard — as well as the success of the offensive line to make room for the runners.

“The spotlight is on us, but it’s really our line making those blocks,” Morris said. “I’d like to shout-out the line for our rushing yards. Big effort today. The line did their job, we did our job and the outcome showed it.”

The two seniors also made their presence felt on the defensive side of the ball. Morris forced a fumble and recorded a sack, and Rokes had an interception.

Both turnovers came in the second half.

The game was a shootout until then, with the teams trading touchdowns back and forth, and neither team able to make a stop.

The teams scored a combined seven touchdowns in the first half — four for Merrimack and three for Keene — and the Tomahawks led 28-20 at the break.

“[The team] was concerned at halftime, but they weren’t discouraged,” said Keene head coach Linwood Patnode. “We figured we’d have an awful time trying to cover [Merrimack] in their passing game and we thought we could probably run the ball, so we went with that.”

The third quarter was the difference, as Keene outscored Merrimack 14-0 on touchdowns from Rokes and Morris.

“The officials, when they were leaving the field, said, ‘Will you tell 32 (Morris) and 10 (Rokes) that they run like animals?’ And they did. They’re a pleasure to coach,” Patnode said.

After letting Merrimack score on four of its five possessions of the first half, Keene kept the Tomahawks scoreless in their three possessions of the third quarter, forcing two turnovers: the fumble recovery from Morris and the interception from Rokes.

At first, it looked like the third quarter was going to be a carbon copy of the first half when Merrimack quarterback Kyle Crampton (268 yards, four touchdowns) found Shea Goodwin (140 yards, three touchdowns) for 58 yards to put the Tomahawks at the Keene 1-yard-line.

Then the Keene defense woke up.

Two sacks and a penalty backed Merrimack up, and eventually the Blackbirds forced a turnover on downs.

In the second half, “we ended up sagging back into coverage and we got some sacks because of it,” Patnode said. “Those were coverage sacks. [Crampton] was looking and didn’t have anywhere to fling it to.”

A few plays into Keene’s next drive, Rokes exploded for a 56-yard touchdown run to cut the deficit to 28-26.

On Merrimack’s next offensive play from scrimmage, Morris recovered a fumble and later scored from 17 yards out to give Keene its first lead of the day, late in the third quarter.

On the Tomahawks’ next possession, Rokes intercepted a pass from Crampton that bounced off a defender and right into Rokes’ arms.

That’s when the “Jarrod Rokes” chant started raining down from the lively Keene student section, helping celebrate the Homecoming festivities.

“We had a talk during half,” Rokes said. “We let [Merrimack] work the ball down but kept them in front of us so they couldn’t hit it deep. It worked out. We made plays when we needed to.”

The Blackbirds defense held Merrimack to just 119 yards of total offense in the second half, but the real test came on Merrimack’s first drive of the fourth quarter.

Merrimack had just taken over on downs at their own 14-yard-line, a touchdown away from tying the game or possibly taking the lead.

Instead of letting that happen, the Keene defense forced a three-and-out and a bad punt gave their offense great field position. The Blackbirds went on to score and cement their lead.

Sophomore quarterback Aidan Tarr didn’t have to throw the ball much, but was effective when he did, going 3-for-3 for 29 yards and a touchdown, which went to senior Marcus Rokes, Jarrod’s twin brother.

Keene (4-4) hosts Nashua South next Friday for the regular season finale. Kickoff for the Senior Night game is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

Chris Detwiler can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1411, or cdetwiler@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Detwiler.