What looked like business as usual for football teams in the Vermilion Valley Conference took a drastic turn during the second week of league games.
For the first time since the VVC was created in the fall of 2004, Salt Fork and Westville lost a regular-season game on the same date.
Unbeaten Milford/Cissna Park outscored the Storm 42-33 while Westville was also beaten on the road, dropping a 35-12 decision at Bismarck-Henning.
When the dust settled last week, MCP was one of three schools unbeaten in Vermilion Valley play. The Bearcats share the top spot with two other cooperative ventures: Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac and Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman.
There won’t be more than two undefeated programs when this week’s league outcomes are in the books. O/A-P will play G-RF/C in Georgetown. MCP will try to remain unbeaten, facing Salt Fork in Catlin.
A recap of the Week 4 highlights:
The Blue Devils’ last win over Westville occurred in 2001 (17-14). Since the VVC was formed in 2004, Westville had outscored B-H in five games 226-62, none of which were closer than 26 points at the final buzzer.
The most recent game reinforced what B-H coach Mark Dodd has believed since the preseason.
“We think we have the ability to compete every week,” he said.
Proving it against a team which was ranked 10th last week among the state’s Class 2A teams was significant.
“It’s one positive step in building the program,” Dodd said. “The fact that we played well, scored points and controlled the tempo was good for us.”
The Blue Devils relied on the running of their fullbacks, who were the team’s top ground-gainers. Ross Darby gained 94 yards and Matt LeCleir rushed for 82 yards. Both totals were season highs.
Quarterback Michael Grant carried the ball seven times, but scored touchdowns on three of his attempts.
“Michael did a good job of making the right calls,” Dodd said. “It’s a good sign when we can get our fullback established.”
The win enabled the Blue Devils to bounce back from the previous week’s two-point loss at MCP.
“Our kids have focused pretty well and responded pretty well,” Dodd said.
Against Salt Fork, the Blue Devils will see some mirror images.
“It’s a unique challenge for both teams,” Dodd said. “We run the winged-T. They run the winged-T. We see it every day in practice. There are some variances. They are more of a big-play team and we’re more of a grind-it-out team.”
Luke Thornsbrough led the B-H defensive effort last week with 12 tackles. Darby and Reed Collins each had 10 stops.
Kicker Ian Park converted five more extra-point attempts, giving him 11 in succession that he has hit.
“There are a lot of good things happening here,” said Dodd, including in that statement the 4-0 start by the Blue Devils’ junior varsity team.
SALT FORK (3-1)
The Storm (No. 9) remained in the Class 1A state rankings despite the loss at Milford.
Salt Fork hasn’t scored fewer than four touchdowns in any of its games and reached the end zone five times against Milford/Cissna Park.
“It’s a case where we’re thrilled with 33 points. We put ourselves in position offensively to win,” coach Brian Plotner said, “but we gave up way too many points and big play after big play.”
In its first three games, the Storm defense had yielded three total touchdowns. MCP had exceeded that total by halftime of the fourth game.
“We didn’t play well enough to stop them,” Plotner said. “We didn’t deserve to win.”
Plotner’s concern this week in a homecoming game at Catlin is contending with a Bismarck-Henning squad which had a more competitive game against unbeaten MCP (losing 26-24) one week before the Storm fell 42-33 to the same opponent.
“We have some things to solve,” Plotner said. “You’ll never win a football game giving up 42 points.”
One highlight for the Storm last week also helped illustrate a deficiency. Senior Lance Hubbard rushed for a career-high 168 yards and scored four touchdowns. The other four Storm runners who carried the ball combined for 27 yards on the ground.
“Lance is getting more comfortable running and is getting more opportunities,” Plotner said, “but we’ve got to be more balanced and get other kids involved offensively.”
Joe Pratt had his best passing game (105 yards) with the yardage being distributed almost equally between Hubbard (48 yards) and Rileigh Darnell (46 yards).
Matt Delbridge led the team’s defensive charge, more than doubling his season tackling totals (13) with a 14-tackle performance. Tony Marrow was in on 11 stops.
The Comets continued their offensive prowess, extending their streak of consecutive quarters with a touchdown to 10. O/A-P also registered its first shutout in a 46-0 triumph over Hoopeston Area.
The Cornjerkers neutralized two of the three most potent Comet ballcarriers. Quarterback Trace McClintock was held to 172 yards less than he rushed for the previous week and fullback Arlen Kerst’s 100-yard rushing streak was snapped at two games.
However, sophomore I-back Ryan Strange — who was pulled off of defense to concentrate on offense — responded with a 282-yard, three-TD effort.
“That’s the whole idea of running the option,” O/A-P coach Gary Denhart said. “Strange picked up the slack. The thing I was impressed with was that he was downfield before he was getting hit.
“Obviously, he has talent, good lateral moves and good lateral vision, but our line is so much better.”
The shutout was possible, Denhart said, because “defensively, we’re making more strides than on offense.”
The defensive line of Tyler Todd, Derek Wilder, James Haaksma and Ryan Robertson — with Andy Rutledge and Jacob McGlaughlin rotating in — had its best showing.
“We’re doing a lot of things right,” Denhart said. “Our kids have just played solid football and it’s a good feeling.”
Kerst and Robertson (seven stops apiece) were the Comets’ top tacklers.
The attitude of his squad is what Denhart finds most pleasing.
“They celebrate after a win and Monday come back (to practice) ready to work,” he said.
Denhart expects to see an explosive offense from this week’s opponent, Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman.
“Georgetown has lots of athletes and that worries me,” he said. “They use the entire field. It’s a headache to defend them.”
Since shifting out of the backfield, O/A-P’s Clay Smith has emerged as the Comets’ top pass-catcher. He has five of the team’s 12 receptions to date.
Receiver Austin Buckley, who was injured in Week 2, could return to action this week.
GEORGETOWN-RIDGE FARM/CHRISMAN (3-1)
The Buffaloes are showing the endurance and stamina to fare well in the fourth quarters of their games. During the team’s three-game winning streak, G-RF/C has outscored the opposition 35-0 in the final period.
Last week’s 34-28 conquest of Schlarman required a clinching touchdown from sophomore Tanner Kelley in the waning minutes to secure the victory. The Hilltoppers carried a 28-21 lead into the final quarter.
“Kelley ran the ball well and our offensive line supplied the holes,” coach Jason Baccadutre said. “Our kids fought through the adversity.”
The coach has made it a point of emphasis to be ready for the game’s final 12 minutes. For the second week in a row, G-RF/C had to rally late after trailing in the fourth quarter.
“We condition them pretty hard and the kids have bought into keeping in shape,” Baccadutre said. “It has paid off. Once you get physically exhausted, you are pretty much beat.”
Prior to Kelly’s TD, Korie Vire turned a 5-yard pass play from Ryan Dieu into a 38-yard scoring play with a tackle-breaking move. Vire’s extra-point kick had created a 28-28 fourth-quarter tie.
Baccadutre expects to make a game-day decision about the availability of rushing leader Alex Pratt, who opened his senior year with four successive 100-yard rushing performances. He suffered a dislocated thumb in the second quarter against Schlarman and was unable to return to the field after gaining 156 yards.
Kelley, who totaled a career-high 81 yards on the ground, could be employed as the go-to back although Baccadutre has other options.
“We have a couple of other kids (Vire and Derrick McCormick) we can put back there,” he said.
Among the Buffaloes’ defensive leaders last week were Vire, Brock Herrin, Ross Olson and Cody Owen with 11 tackles apiece.
MILFORD/CISSNA PARK (4-0)
The team’s fourth consecutive win is the most memorable — thus far — for Bearcats’ second-year coach Nate Albaugh.
“In a young career, it has no problem taking over as my top win,” he said.
The irony about the unbeaten getaway is that Albaugh has tweaked the lineup every week.
“We learned some things in Week 1, and in Week 2, we moved some people around,” he said. “Week after week, we got one more piece of the puzzle right.
“The more pieces we got into place, it turned into being a pretty good product and we’ve seen our momentum pick up.”
For the first time, as the Bearcats prepare for Westville, there won’t be additional personnel changes. The Week 4 moves included putting Andrew Kelnhofer at right tackle and defensive end, inserting Jake McCann at center, moving Tyler Allison to wingback and rotating Kyle Popham from linebacker to cornerback.
“Everybody is in the place we want them,” Albaugh said. “This week, our focus is on getting those people improved.”
There was not a shortage of bright spots against the Storm. Kyle Evans had his best rushing game (124 yards). Twin brother Kristopher Evans had his best passing game (completing 9 of 10 for 191 yards) and Justin Flinkman flashed his big-play potential, averaging nearly 40 yards per reception.
He turned two of his three catches into TDs and gained 119 yards through the air.
If Albaugh were inclined to issue a game ball for the triumph over Salt Fork, he might split it between members of his defensive front.
“They made a conscious effort to play football low and fought the temptation to come up,” he said, “and we stopped a formidable running attack.”
The defensive line features Jordan Wyss, Carl Berg, Aaron Virklan and Bryan Yergler. Kelnhofer had a team-high nine tackles last week. Reed Anderson was in on seven stops.
The Tigers need to win out to avoid their first three-loss regular season in five years. Friday’s game with MCP is Westville’s homecoming.
Coach Guy Goodlove was surprised as he watched game film of last week’s 35-12 loss at Bismarck-Henning.
“I expected to see a lot of negative things on film,” he said, “but I saw a lot of positives.”
One player who stood out was tight end Ryan Blue.
“He did extremely well,” Goodlove said. “We need to sustain blocks like Ryan did. He was blocking guys 8-10 yards downfield. If we get that type of effort from everybody, we’ll get back in the win column.”
Brendon Severado remained the focal point of the offense, carrying the ball on 22 of the team’s 32 running plays and hauling in four of Zach Waclaw’s eight completions. Severado finished with 167 total yards and had a TD on the ground and through the air.
“Other teams are focused on Brendon now and he’s doing it the hard way,” Goodlove said. “He is having to earn everything he is getting.
“He’s not only making plays at tailback and wide receiver, he’s making plays all over the field from outside linebacker. He’s going sideline to sideline to make tackles. He is a bright spot.”
For the fourth consecutive game, Severado led the Tigers in tackling. For the fourth consecutive game, he reached double figures. He finished with 12 stops against B-H. Justin Moore and Ryan Pintar each had seven tackles.
Zach Waclaw, who passed for 98 yards last week, will likely start at quarterback again. Goodlove said Matt Maser hasn’t practiced in more than two weeks since sustaining a twisted knee against Momence (though he played for about a half against Salt Fork) and added, “I don’t believe he’ll play, but I don’t have a crystal ball.”
Despite the lack of continuity on offense, Goodlove said, “I see a lot of improvements.”
More are still needed.
“We have to get better,” he said.
Most importantly, he acknowledged, “our team is very upbeat, very positive. We love to play football and we’re not down.”
The Hilltoppers have solidified their running offense with quarterback Heath Goodwin and tailback Skylar Dodge teaming up to gain more than 200 yards in both VVC games thus far.
Coach Mike High no longer needs to convince his players they are making progress. They see it on the game field, yet another vital step is needed, according to the coach.
“They know deep down in their hearts things have gotten a lot better, but at some point in time, you need payback,” High said. “We need a reward. Once we get a taste of that, it will help us move forward.”
Besides rushing for 142 yards, Goodwin completed three passes for 32 yards, hooking up with Ron Soderstrom on two of the pass plays.
Schlarman travels to Hoopeston Area (also 0-4) for a 7 p.m. kickoff on Friday.
“I’ve got them convinced they are just as good as anybody else they play, but I’ve told them, when you’re just as good and two teams are equal, it comes down to which teams make mistakes,” High said.
The challenge, he said, is clear: “How soon can we clean up our mistakes and get over the hump?”
Anthony Drake had a team-high eight tackles against Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman before suffering an ankle injury. Dodge had seven tackles.
Since VVC play opened, the Hilltoppers have been able to take advantage of a strong kicker, senior Michael Bateman, a two-sport fall athlete who also plays soccer.
He was withheld from the first two football games until he’d met the IHSA’s mandated practice requirements. Since suiting up, the left-footed Bateman has nailed 6 of 7 extra-point tries, along with a field goal. His six kickoffs have sailed an average of 50 yards and his five punts have averaged 32 yards each.
“He just started kicking (footballs) earlier this season,” High said, “but it’s an advantage for us in the kicking game.”
HOOPESTON AREA (0-4)
The Cornjerkers seek to break into the win column against Schlarman, a squad also looking for its first win this season. Hoopeston Area is trying to snap a 13-game losing skid. The team’s last win came over Milford, 42-41, in the final game of the 2007 season.
Coach Jeff Ohlemeyer didn’t see progress in Week 4 (46-0 loss to Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac) like he witnessed in the previous weeks.
“For whatever reason, we were not ready to play,” he said. “We’d had a great week of practice and even had an extra day since we had no JV game on Monday.
“We couldn’t run the ball and we couldn’t catch it. I wish I had the answer.
“It’s back to the drawing board.”
Hoopeston’s struggles last week carried over to special teams. O/A-P blocked three punts.
“In every phase, we were having issues,” Ohlemeyer said. “We work on that stuff like everyone, but at times it seems like you don’t work on it.”
The team’s rushing leaders — with 2 yards apiece — against the Comets were Robbie Irvin and Zach Thrasher. The team’s overall negative rushing yardage resulted from nine quarterback sacks.
Irvin, a sophomore playing in his first game this year, made an immediate impact. He caught five of Tate Compton’s nine pass completions for 48 yards and also amassed a game-high 15 tackles.
Ohlemeyer won’t let last week’s performance detract from his team’s development.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” he said. It’s a slow process. The first three weeks showed me we are making strides.”
The Cornjerkers expect to have Andre Colunga back in the lineup. He has missed the last two games with a hip injury.
“We should basically be at full strength,” Ohlemeyer said. “Now we have to be physically and mentally prepared. Schlarman looks pretty fundamentally sound. It should be a very competitive game.”