If you want proof of the importance to a football team of what transpires at practice between Monday and Thursday, listen to the comments of Vermilion Valley Conference coaches and then check out their results from last week.
Salt Fork’s Brian Plotner: “We practiced a lot better last week. Our mental focus, effort and the attitude of the kids was a lot better. They responded in a positive way.”
Outcome: The Storm rebounded from a 42-33 loss the previous week to defeat Bismarck-Henning 32-3.
Bismarck-Henning’s Mark Dodd: “It was not one of our better weeks (of practice). We had an overall bad performance (against Salt Fork).”
Outcome: The Blue Devils followed up a 35-12 win the previous week with the 32-3 loss to Salt Fork.
Milford/Cissna Park’s Nate Albaugh: “After four games, maybe the kids were thinking we were the nation’s best team. Now they realize they have to work for this.”
Outcome: After a 42-33 homecoming win the previous week over state-ranked Salt Fork, the Bearcats went to Westville and dropped a 40-14 decision.
Westville’s Guy Goodlove: “We put one good week of practice together. This week, we’ve said lets not focus on the opponent, lets focus on getting improvement during the week.”
Outcome: After a 35-12 loss the previous week to Bismarck-Henning, the Tigers turned around to hand Milford/Cissna Park its first loss, 40-14.
A review of Week 5 action for teams in the Vermilion Valley Conference:
HOOPESTON AREA (1-4)
The Cornjerkers snapped two streaks with its 21-7 victory over Schlarman. The win was the first for Hoopeston Area since 2007, ending a 13-game losing streak. It was also the school’s first homecoming win in 16 years.
“We played exceptionally well defensively,” coach Jeff Ohlemeyer said, “especially our linebackers and defensive line. It was a good overall effort.”
Ohlemeyer said the triumph helps to validate what the coaching staff has been emphasizing.
“We’ve been preaching for three years if you keep your nose to the grindstone, everything will come out all right,” Ohlemeyer said. “Unfortunately, we haven’t had enough horses to finish the race.
“This helps as far as them believing if they work hard and do things right, things can go our way.”
The Cornjerkers had their best offensive performance of the year. Zach Thrasher (90 yards), Robbie Irvin (74 yards) and Cody Eells (61 yards) all rushed for at least 60 yards.
Quarterback Tate Compton’s lone pass completion was for 52 yards and a touchdown to Eells.
Hoopeston took the lead early, with Thrasher running 58 yards to the end zone on the team’s second play from scrimmage. It brought back a feeling of deja vu for Ohlemeyer.
“Last year, Cody Eells scored on the first play against them,” Ohlemeyer said. “Sometimes you can have a letdown (after a quick score) and we were a little apprehensive.”
The Cornjerkers then had a defensive stop after Schlarman had driven inside the Hoopeston 20 on its next possession.
“We seemed to rise to the occasion when we needed to,” Ohlemeyer said.
Eells and Andrew Vaughn each finished with 11 tackles. Matt Watson ended the game with a quarterback sack on the final play after the Hilltoppers had moved inside the Hoopeston 5-yard-line.
The Cornjerkers, who play host to Salt Fork on Friday, are looking for additional success.
“We’re trying to end more streaks,” Ohlemeyer said.
One prominent target is points allowed. The last time Hoopeston permitted fewer than 300 in a nine-game season was 2000 (229 points allowed).
“That is a team goal,” he said. “We’re trying to get a defensive mindset and if we can put some long drives together and keep the defense off the field, that will make us better.”
Last year’s Hoopeston Area team yielded 371 points. At its current pace, this year’s team would permit 256 points.
Kyle Ramos, who suffered a strained MCL last week, will likely play against the Storm. If the center is unable to go, Cody Inman will take over.
SALT FORK (4-1)
Coach Brian Plotner pointed to one reason for the state-ranked Storm’s return to the win column last week in the 32-3 conquest of Bismarck-Henning. “Special teams played a huge role,” the coach said.
Brandon Dixon got things started with a 90-yard return of the opening kickoff for a TD.
Before the game ended, Joe Pratt had intercepted a pass and also caused and recovered a fumble, teammates Sean Cox and Jordan Hallett recovered fumbles and Blake Bodine picked off a pass.
“Turnovers played a big role and gave us a lot of momentum,” Plotner said. “We got some breaks and we capitalized.”
Offensively, Salt Fork had 227 yards of total offense. The leader was Lance Hubbard with 97 yards split between receiving (67 yards) and rushing (30 yards).
Matt Delbridge, a two-way starter who also punts, suffered a knee injury against the Blue Devils and will sit out this week. “It’s uncertain when he will return,” Plotner said.
In his absence, sophomore Clay Manning was inserted at linebacker and he more than doubled his season tackling totals (eight) with a team-high 11-tackle performance.
“He had a fantastic game and played well for his first significant performance,” Plotner said.
Tony Marrow had seven tackles and Jeremy Homan six for the Storm, who are ranked in a tie for the eighth spot in Class 1A this week.
Offensively, Delbridge’s brother, Luke, and Aaron Taylor shared the guard position. Pratt handled the punting chores. As quarterback, Pratt threw a touchdown pass for the third consecutive game. He hooked up with Hubbard twice and Dixon once.
Salt Fork will travel to Hoopeston Area on Friday.
“The last time we took a road trip to that area (Milford, two weeks ago), it was not a positive experience,” Plotner said. “We need to go on the road and show we can play well. We need back-to-back weeks of good football.”
After scoring 18 points in their previous 10 quarters, the Tigers piled up 40 first-half points against previously unbeaten Milford/Cissna Park. Westville led 40-0 and MCP cut that to 40-7 at halftime to prevent the use of a running clock.
“We played up to our potential and played like we’re capable of playing,” Westville coach Guy Goodlove said.
Still, he was surprised by the team’s performance.
“I’m still shaking my head in disbelief,” Goodlove said. “I never expected it to be 40-7 at halftime. Milford/Cissna Park has some of the conference’s best athletes. They’re fast, quick and tough kids.”
What the game illustrated, Goodlove said, is the value of junior quarterback Matt Maser. He’d missed the previous 11/2 games while recovering from a twisted knee, but was good to go against the Bearcats.
“I didn’t realize we missed him as much as we did,” Goodlove said.
In his return, Maser rushed for 159 yards and scored TDs on three of his 10 carries. He completed 3 of 4 passes for 61 yards, including a 47-yard scoring strike to Ryan Blue.
Maser, however, was far from a one-player show.
Workhorse Brendon Severado rushed for a career-high 259 yards on 30 carries. Defensively, Cody Pratt had a career-high seven solo tackles and led the Tigers in total tackles with nine.
“Cody had en exceptional game,” Goodlove said. “We lined him up at different spots and he was all over the field. He was in the backfield, dropped back for passes and played sideline to sideline. It was nice to see a sophomore play varsity football like that.
“Usually, sophomores are a little gun-shy, but he came ready to play.”
Severado displayed what Goodlove called “very good acceleration,” but there were other factors in his performance.
“His offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage and opened up big holes,” Goodlove said. “It was by far the best the offensive line played all year. It was nice to see us on the other side of the line of scrimmage, instead of being pushed back.”
Westville plays at Schlarman’s Drummy Field on Friday.
The defining moment for the Hilltoppers, who lost 21-7 at Hoopeston, came at the outset of the third quarter.
“We’d closed it to 14-7 at halftime and we got the (second-half) kickoff,” coach Mike High said.
Schlarman mishandled the kickoff and ended up getting tackled inside its own 5-yard-line. Unable to make a first down, the Hilltoppers punted and gave the Cornjerkers a short field for their third touchdown.
The final margin, High said, didn’t reflect how well his defensive unit played. Hoopeston’s first two scores were on plays each covering more than half of the field.
When those two plays are excluded, the teams had similar totals for their offensive output. Hoopeston had 181 “other” yards and Schlarman totaled 176.
“The defense was adequate,” High said. “Other than the two big plays, they didn’t hurt us too much.”
Quarterback Heath Goodwin had a hand in 132 of the Hilltoppers’ yards, passing for 75 and rushing for 57. Lucas Spezia had four receptions for 45 yards.
Schlarman’s final four opponents have a cumulative 13-7 record. High hopes to continue seeing progress.
“We keep telling them to work hard, take pride in their game and the team as a whole,” he said.
When the Hilltoppers play host to Westville on Friday, junior tight end Alex Torres will likely be sidelined with a shoulder injury. He went out against Hoopeston and Kyle Golden was shifted from receiver to tight end.
The Comets continued their assault on the school record book last week in their 41-14 triumph at Georgtown, a win which moved coach Gary Denhart’s club into sole possession of first place in the Vermilion Valley Conference race.
Two weeks after setting their single-game mark for total offense (551 yards vs. Schlarman), the Comets established a one-game record for rushing attempts. The previous mark, which had stood since 1993, was 67 attempts.
Against the Buffaloes, with Arlen Kerst carrying 27 times, Ryan Strange getting the call 26 times, Trace McClintock keeping the ball 14 times and Clay Smith receiving the other five carries, O/A-P had 72 running plays.
“The reason we only threw two passes is that we were running so well,” Denhart said.
Strange had his second consecutive 200-yard game, Kerst ran for a career-high 148 yards and McClintock rushed for 49 and also completed a 25-yard scoring pass to John Garrett, the team’s first TD pass of the season.
“We played both sides of the ball,” Denhart said. “I was pleased all around.”
In particular, Denhart offered praise to one aspect.
“Our offensive line played well,” he said. “Georgetown had a couple of defensive tackles I was impressed with and they were bigger than us, but we were getting off the ball.”
Joseph Garrett was the defensive leader against the Buffaloes, collecting five tackles.
The Comets play host to Bismarck-Henning this week. Denhart expects the type of game the schools have had in recent years.
“Regardless of the year, regardless of the record, Bismarck is one team that plays us tough,” Denhart said. ”They have a system and they do it well. They bring the ball right at you and make you stop them upfront first. It’s not a vacation.”
The last four games between the VVC rivals have been settled by an average of 6.3 points with the closest margin occurring last year in B-H’s 28-27 victory.
The Blue Devils’ bright spots last week against Salt Fork came on defense. Ross Darby registered a season-high 13 tackles. Luke Thornsbrough reached double figures in tackling (10) for the second straight week and also blocked a punt.
Other defensive stalwarts were Morgan Supergan (11 tackles), Reed Collins (10 tackles) and Dakota Patton (10 tackles).
The offense never got untracked. Though eight backs had carries, B-H’s rushing total was 63 yards for 27 attempts.
“We need to improve up front,” coach Mark Dodd said.
With a plethora of young players in the lineup, Dodd said consistency is difficult to maintain.
“We have so many sophomores playing key roles, it’s bound to happen,” he said. “They played well against Westville, then had a midseason lull.”
Unfortunately, he’d seen it before.
“It was like Week 1 all over again,” he said. “We turned the ball over and played bad.”
The Blue Devils’ losses have been against opponents which currently have a combined record of 13-2. Next up is a team with a 4-1 mark.
The defense will receive a severe challenge this week against what Dodd called Oakwood’s “powerful running game.”
While the option is a part of the Comets’ attack, Dodd added, “they don’t run it exclusively and can go to the isolation game. They have a lot of nice schemes.”
B-H’s Dan Golden, who has missed the past two games with a knee injury, is expected back this week.
GEORGETOWN-RIDGE FARM/CHRISMAN (3-2)
If coach Jason Baccadutre was looking for an ominous sign prior to last week’s showdown with Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac for the VVC lead, then it would have been seen in the days leading up to the game.
“We didn’t have a full practice with all of the starters at any one point (during the week),” he said, “and I think it showed.”
Illnesses and injuries were factors that slowed several players. All except Tanner Kelley are expected to be in the lineup this week for the Buffaloes’ homecoming game against Milford/Cissna Park.
“We started slow and came back (leading 14-12 entering the second quarter) and then after they scored, we didn’t respond,” Baccadutre said.
G-RF/C had a fourth-and-goal and was unable to convert and O/A-P subsequently pulled away. Much of the credit, Baccadutre said, goes to the opponent.
“They beat us up front and their quarterback (Trace McClintock) is an unbelievable athlete,” Baccadutre said. “He has an all-conference vote from me for his knowledge of the game and ability to run the team.”
The Buffaloes’ quarterback, Ryan Dieu, hit the 100-yard mark in passing for the fourth time in five weeks. He completed 11 of 29 attempts with Derrick McCormick hauling in five of the receptions for 63 yards.
Alex Pratt led the running attack with 66 yards on 13 carries.
It was not all gloom and doom, especially in the opening half.
“We had moments of brilliance,” Baccadutre said.
G-RF/C plays host to a Milford/Cissna Park team which was unbeaten until last week and receiving votes in the state poll. One program will rebound with a win this week.
Baccadutre isn’t worried about his team’s mental psyche.
“The nice thing about kids is that they usually bounce back pretty quickly,” he said. “In retrospect, it hurt bad Friday, but we are still 3-2 and still in the hunt for the conference title.
“Our conference is so level I don’t know if there is a team that goes unbeaten.”
Defensively, a bright spot was senior linebacker A.J. Pitmon, a first-year player. He had a career-high 11 tackles against O/A-P.
“He played a lot more and did well,” Baccadutre said.
In conjunction with Friday’s homecoming, all past G-RF players will be recognized for their role in helping the school become the 31st in state history with 500 documented wins.
No. 500 occurred in Week 3 when the Buffaloes defeated Hoopeston Area 27-13. The G-RF program traces its roots to 1903.
MILFORD/CISSNA PARK (4-1)
The Bearcats’ dream season took a nightmarish turn last week when the team allowed 40 points before scoring on Kyle Popham’s second-quarter kickoff return. Westville wound up handing MCP a 40-14 loss.
Coach Nate Albaugh said he and his staff had been talking about troublesome ares which needed addressing and that Westville exposed those shortcomings.
“We had seen all along the weaknesses in our defense and I told my defensive coordinator I couldn’t believe we were getting away with this,” Albaugh said. “For the first time, our weaknesses were glaring.
“Everybody played a little below their capabilities on the same night.”
He hopes the jolt back to reality will be beneficial for the remainder of the season.
“I can’t say I’m happy, because it hurt our morale, but this week and next week, we will be a much better football team because of this loss,” Albaugh said. “It didn’t seem like we were ready to play.
“It’s a good lesson that finally caught up to us.”
The Bearcats had one standout in 230-pound senior Andrew Kelnhofer, who was in on a season-high 20 tackles. Justin Flinkman had eight tackles and also hauled in all four of Kristopher Evans’ completions, covering 60 yards.
“When you’re winning, kids let so much pass. It’s in one ear and out the other,” Albaugh said. “We had their attention (Monday) and our attitudes were good.”
The coach said there was plenty of blame to share.
“It’s not all on the kids,” he said. “I took the weekend to look at play-calling and this week we hope to exploit our strengths and really use those.”
MCP will move forward without one of its two-way starters, junior Tyler Allison, whose two interceptions led the team. He turned in his uniform earlier this week.
“We have to reorganize, but we’ll be OK,” Albaugh said.
Albaugh expects rushing leader Kyle Evans to be closer to full strength against G-RF/C, though he didn’t practice on Monday. The senior twisted an ankle in the first quarter last week and was limited to a season-low seven carries and 17 yards rushing.