Salt Fork’s football team follows up its Week 3 showdown against state-ranked Westville with a fourth-week encounter on the road this Friday (Sept. 18) against another area unbeaten.
The Storm will provide the opposition for Milford/Cissna Park in the Bearcats’ homecoming game. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Other Vermilion Valley Conference schools trying to stay unbeaten in league play are Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac, which plays host to Hoopeston Area, and Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman, which plays at Schlarman in the Hilltoppers’ home-opener.
The other game is at Bismarck-Henning, where the Blue Devils and Westville are each seeking their first VVC triumph.
A recap of Week 3 action for league members:
MILFORD/CISSNA PARK (3-0)
The Bearcats displayed their tenacity, resiliency and focus in their come-from-behind 26-24 triumph over Bismarck-Henning.
“With 4 or 5 minutes left (and still trailing), we had to punt again,” MCP head coach Nate Albaugh said. “We had to count on our defense. They had been moving the ball effectively, but we found a way to slow them down.”
Albaugh said there was not one individual standout on defense, but that the defensive backfield of Tyler Allison, Reed Anderson, Justin Flinkman and Cody Shippert “did a great coverage job in the secondary,” while the linebackers “continued to stop them for 2- or 3-yard gains.”
The Blue Devils punted again with less than 2 minutes to play. Anderson’s return gave the Bearcats possession on their own 45. Four plays later, down to potentially their final chance, Kristopher Evans hooked up with a diving Flinkman on a 50-yard completion.
Kyle Evans charged to the 1 on the next play and, without calling a timeout, MCP called upon Kyle Popham and he scored on a second down run with 16 seconds remaining.
“The ball is being distributed to a lot of kids,” Albaugh said. “A lot of kids are playing key roles.
“We’re more than happy to be 3-0.”
Milford/Cissna Park will face state-ranked Salt Fork in the Bearcats’ homecoming encounter.
“I have a lot of respect for Salt Fork, and always pull for that program, except this week,” Albaugh said. “We are not going into this thinking, ‘Lets see what we can do.’ We are preparing to keep ourselves in it.”
Flinkman has emerged as a go-to catalyst for MCP.
After Bismarck-Henning scored a first-quarter touchdown, he returned the ensuing kickoff 79 yards for a TD. Preceding Kyle Evans’ 1-yard scoring jaunt one second before the halftime buzzer sounded, Flinkman moved the Bearcats to the shadow of the goal line thanks to a 44-yard pass from Kristopher Evans.
The MCP quarterback completed 8 of 14 passes for a season-high 135 yards.
Defensively, Anderson was the tackling leader (13) followed by three teammates with eight stops apiece: Kyle Evans, Andrew Kelnhofer and Popham.
SALT FORK (3-0)
Coach Brian Plotner found three more reasons to be pleased after his unbeaten Storm rallied to top Westville 32-6 in a battle of state-ranked teams.
Through two games, he’d been satisfied with the performance of his senior offensive linemen, tackles Jordan Hallett and Jake Manning.
“The seniors have been solid. Last week, I was pleased with our junior linemen,” Plotner said. “Collectively, they played pretty well.”
Center Tylre Ball is joined up front by guards Matt Delbridge and Nevin Grant.
“In the second half, we had much better line pushes, both offensively and defensively,” Plotner said.
The Storm gathered 165 of their rushing yards after intermission as they expanded on a 7-6 halftime lead.
“We found our poise,” said Plotner, who was far from pleased by what he saw the opening 24 minutes.
“The first half was probably our poorest performance,” he said, “but there was a stretch in the third and into the fourth quarters where we played as well as we’ve played.”
The defense came up with key plays, such as an interception by Joe Pratt in his end zone and a fumble recovery by Aaron Taylor — after he forced the ball loose — which led to a 21-yard, one-play scoring drive by Lance Hubbard.
“We had some big-time plays. Overall we were solid, but not spectacular,” Plotner said.
Hubbard (83 yards) led Salt Fork in rushing. Pratt (7 of 12, no interceptions) passed for a season-high 84 yards and Rileigh Darnell stepped up as a dependable receiver, turning four catches into gains of 55 yards.
Darnell (nine tackles) and Tony Marrow (six tackles) were the defensive leaders.
GEORGETOWN-RIDGE FARM/CHRISMAN (2-1)
The Buffaloes are showing that halftime scores mean little in determining the ultimate winner. In all three of the team’s games, the school leading at halftime was not the school leading when the final buzzer sounded.
G-RF/C has a two-game winning streak.
Coach Jason Baccadutre attributed last week’s 13-12 fourth-quarter deficit against Hoopeston to one factor, “the pure fact that we overlooked a team. They (Cornjerkers) came out and played well and we played poorly.”
A TD run by Alex Pratt and an interception return by Korie Vire gave G-RF/C the points it needed late to handle the Cornjerkers, 27-13.
Several squad members made significant contributions. Derrick McCormick intercepted two passes and quarterback Ryan Dieu scattered his 12 completions between six receivers: Tyler Dill, Tanner Kelley, Cody Owen, McCormick, Pratt and Vire.
“The nice thing, and a huge positive, is that we finished the game strong,” Baccadutre said.
The defense has made plays consistently. Through three games, G-RF/C has forced 17 turnovers, 10 on fumbles and seven via interceptions. Kyle Greene has latched onto three of the fumbles.
Baccadutre doesn’t anticipate any letdowns this week against a Schlarman squad seeking its first win.
“We learned our lesson,” he said. “They are a pretty good 0-3. They have an excellent quarterback (Heath Goodwin) who is a very good runner and thrower.
“We hope we can get on a roll and keep building.”
Pratt rushed for 116 yards against Hoopeston and Dieu passed for a season-high 164 yards. Defensively, Zach Carter (14 tackles), Pratt (12) and Brock Herrin (nine) were the leaders.
Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac coach Gary Denhart offered a candid evaluation on why the Hilltoppers’ quarterback, Heath Goodwin, rushed for 182 yards and passed for 53 against his Comets.
“It wasn’t us looking bad,” Denhart said. “It was Goodwin looking good.”
Through three games — all on the road — Goodwin has rushed for more yards (366) than any area quarterback. He has been one of the team’s leaders and coach Mike High is not surprised.
“This is his third year starting, while a lot of our other kids are playing varsity for the first time,” said High, who scrapped virtually everything the team did in previous years and restructured the entire package.
That has led to extensive growing pains in his first year back at the school as head coach.
“What we found out as the kids transition from the old system to the new system is that what they were doing before is now totally opposite,” High said. “What was their instincts before are now bad habits.”
As he seeks consistency and stability, he might have found it in the backfield where Skylar Dodge had his best rushing performance (62 yards) against O/A-P.
The running game is gaining ground as the players ahead of them show improvement.
“I’ve been pleased with our line,” High said. “They’ve held their own.”
The youthful line features freshman Tyler Mangum at tackle, sophomores Spencer Tolson and Mike Seilhymer at guard and tackle, respectively, junior Jordan Sheahan at center and veteran Anthony Drake, a senior, at left guard.
The greatest need, High said, is on defense.
“We have to make drastic improvements,” he said. “We have to figure out a way to stop somebody.”
High is downplaying the homecoming portion of the week. Because of the numerous activities leading up to Friday’s home-opener, he said, “a lot of times, kids are drained and their energy is gone.
“I’ve told them they need to buckle down and get themselves ready for Friday. I’ve tried to warn them about not getting into all of the hype.”
The Comets registered a school-record 551 yards of total offense — breaking a mark of 541 which had stood since 1974 against Jamaica — in overpowering Schlarman 48-23 last week.
After reviewing the game film on Saturday, head coach Gary Denhart said, “I was pleased with our offensive line. It was probably the happiest I’ve been in nine years. It was a total effort. It was a great feeling.”
The line unit has undergone changes since the preseason.
Sophomore Cameron Lee, who started the year as a tight end, is the center. Junior Jim Rutledge, who began the season as the backup I-back, is at left guard, next to another junior, tackle Brad Miller. The right guard is senior Mikal Harden, the center the two previous season. Right tackle Jacob McGlaughlin, one of the O/A-P captains, is in familiar territory at right tackle.
The depth is such, Denhart said, that, “I have decent linemen who are not playing.”
Most notable is senior James Haaksma, whom the coach refers to as “our sixth lineman.”
Haaksma has been getting more time recently on the defensive front.
While he praised the performance of his athletes, Denhart said credit must be given elsewhere when it is due.
“As good as we were on offense, (Heath) Goodwin was as good on their offense,” he said. “We chased him all night long.”
The Comets’ halftime lead was a slender 20-16 advantage.
One change that Denhart made in the offensive backfield last week paid immediate dividends. He installed sophomore Ryan Strange as the I-back and shifted Clay Smith to a flanker position.
He made the switch because, “Clay is a better receiver and Ryan is pretty shifty,” Denhart said.
To enable Strange to concentrate on his new duties, he was given less responsibility on defense. Strange gained a career-high 160 yards, 10 behind team-leader Trace McClintock. The third back over 100 yards was fullback Arlen Kerst (101 yards).
Defensively, Smith was installed at linebacker and his previous position at cornerback was taken by Zack Grubb, who made his first varsity start.
John Garrett (nine tackles) and Tyler Todd (eight) were O/A-P’s defensive leaders.
HOOPESTON AREA (0-3)
The Cornjerkers continue to showed marked improvement, holding a lead on the road against Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman until the final 12 minutes of a 27-13 loss.
“We are starting to turn things around,” coach Jeff Ohlemeyer said, “but it’s frustrating that it’s not translating into wins. The way we feel, we’re probably two plays away from being 2-1.”
An example of the team’s progress was shown late in the second period.
“Down 12-6, we executed our 2-minute offense and took the ball down and scored,” Ohlemeyer said.
The touchdown, on an 11-yard run by Cody Eells, and Nick Grant’s conversion kick lifted the Cornjerkers into a 13-12 edge they kept until the fourth quarter.
“That’s something we’ve not seen around here in a while,” Ohlmeyer said, “the ability to have composure and steal the momentum back.”
Tate Compton, who passed for 179 yards, had two clutch completions in the drive. One was a 15-yard third-down pass to Andrew Vaughn and the other was a 25-yard gainer to Eells.
“Tate was accurate with his passing,” Ohlemeyer said.
For the second straight week, Eells had five receptions. Vaughn has had receptions in all three of the team’s games.
Overall, the team had almost a 50-50 split on its play calling. The Cornjerkers passed the ball 30 times and called 31 running plays.
Hoopeston Area wound up short-handed in the secondary. Wes Rush was injured while playing quarterback in a junior varsity game earlier in the week and sat out. Andrew Colunga (elbow) and Kyle Newton (shoulder) were both hurt against the Buffaloes. Jeff Nolan was previously sidelined (ankle), so offensive lineman Zach Judy was summoned to play at cornerback.
Matt Watson led the defensive effort against G-RF/C (16 tackles), followed by Eells (14), Kyle Ramos (nine) and Vaughn (nine).
Ohlemeyer expects to have several athletes back this week, which means, “we won’t have to play as much ironman football.
The Tigers maintained a position among the state’s elite in Class 2A (ranked 10th) despite the 26-point setback against Salt Fork.
Head coach Guy Goodlove said it is unlikely that junior quarterback Matt Maser (twisted knee) will be in action this week. Despite limited mobility from the injury sustained in Week 2, Maser played the first half and for two series in the third period against the Storm.
“He did what he was capable of doing at about 50 percent (healthy),” Goodlove said. “To me, he is the elite quarterback in the area, but he was not able to do much.”
Brendon Severado, who threw a touchdown pass to Ryan Blue on his only attempt against the Storm, and Zach Waclaw will share the quarterbacking duties this week.
Severado (75 yards) was Westville’s top rusher last week, though junior Justin Moore had his first carries of the season and gained 67 yards on seven attempts.
“Brendon has to have the ball in his hands,” Goodlove said. “He’s our best playmaker and we need to put him in position to make things happen.”
Moore, the coach said, “is quicker than people give him credit for and made some nice cuts. He’ll have to step up and be one of our playmakers.”
A week ago, off-the-field issues hindered the preparations.
“We had a lot of outside distractions and didn’t focus a lot on football,” Goodlove said. “Our thoughts were somewhere else and that had a direct impact on how we performed. We weren’t a very good football team.
“I told the kids Monday it will be nice to have a week to focus on football.”
In particular, Goodlove is placing an emphasis on seeing major strides from his linemen.
“If we don’t get better there, it’s going to be a long season,” he said. “When we had Matt, he was able to outrun a lot of those mistakes. When you don’t have mobility at quarterback, those mistakes can cost you.
“We’ve watched it for three weeks.”
Goodlove said he’ll determine after the week’s practices end if there will be personnel changes up front, but he promised, “we’ll take a look at some people.”
In preparing for Bismarck-Henning, Goodlove said there are many similarities to preparing for Salt Fork.
"Bismarck presents the same challenge, big, strong kids,” he said.
The Blue Devils have come out on the opposite end of close games settled in the final seconds, winning a three-point decision from Villa Grove in Week 2 and dropping a two-point decision last week to Milford/Cissna Park.
Coach Mark Dodd said the loss in the team’s VVC opener was particularly frustrating because of the many good things B-H did on offense. The Blue Devils had possession of the ball for all but a few seconds out of the first quarter, yet held only a 10-7 lead.
“We had a 16-play drive for a touchdown, then they ran the kickoff back for a TD,” Dodd said. “Then we had a 12-play drive and got a field goal (from Ian Park).”
B-H wound up with a 62-38 edge on plays from scrimmage. Of the Blue Devils’ attempts, 55 were rushing plays. Reed Collins gained a season-high 87 yards and Matt LeCleir also had his best game, rushing for 56 yards.
“They (Bearcats) made three big plays and two of them accounted for 94 of their (216) yards,” Dodd said. “That’s definitely one we felt we could have and should have gotten.
“I want the kids to learn from it, but there’s only nine games and there’s not a lot of time for those lessons.”
Ross Darby and Dakota Patton each had nine tackles to lead B-H.
“We did a lot of good things,” said Dodd, who isn’t sure if the timing of the next opponent (Westville) is best following a loss or a win.
“I’m not sure there’s ever a good time to get Westville,” he said. “They have that winning tradition, which we’re trying to get. To me, this will be a battle of wills.”
The Blue Devils will be without two players. Branden Smith, who was hospitalized much of last week with a cracked rib and punctured lung, didn’t play against MCP. Senior Dan Golden, a transfer from Danville, suffered a knee injury against the Bearcats and is awaiting word on an MRI.
Smith was replaced by Alex Hahne on offense at guard. Defensively, Luke Thornsbrough moved from end to linebacker to place Smith, with Hahne taking over for Thornsbrough.
Smith is a junior who is a third-year varsity regular. It took the Blue Devils time to adjust in his absence.
“Our kids are not used to not having him out there,” Dodd said.