Musselman's team earns playoff berth
CERRO GORDO – Chad Musselman was a bit confused when the word on the street in the preseason was that his Villa Grove football program would be rebuilding or struggling altogether this year.
"Multiple people said 'You lost a lot (of personnel),' " Musselman said. "I never said much. We have kids that are juniors who've played for a couple of years and kids that are seniors who've played for a couple of years."
He understands the thought process, however. Graduation took away three backs who combined to rush for 3,689 yards (and pass for another 451) last fall in a 10-1 season.
"I think one thing you always learn when coaching is that you can't look at graduation as a loss but a chance to have other players carry on the tradition and the groundwork that older players have laid for them," Musselman said. "I think everyone believes that we suffered major losses last year, and we did.
"The kids we lost were as talented as any in the area. What we lost was the flash and the flair, the people that were getting us in the newspaper. Those kids will always be missed, but one thing people really need to realize is that there were only five seniors on the team last year."
More important, four of last year's five starting offensive linemen are back. With that nucleus intact, Musselman said, "I felt we could scratch and get 3 yards a play and 4 yards on one play and have the ability to sustain drives."
The coach knew a good thing when he saw it. The Blue Devils clinched a third successive playoff berth Friday by virtue of a 50-22 win against Cerro Gordo/DeLand-Weldon, the preseason favorite in the Little Okaw Valley Conference.
"We really aren't a tremendously different team from last year," Musselman said. "We had a very good nucleus of kids to build around this year."
Junior John Turner, who gained fewer than 200 yards last season, is the marquee back. He went past the 1,200-yard rushing mark for the season, gaining 210 against the Broncos. Turner scored four touchdowns, including one on a 43-yard run a minute into the game.
The credit can be attributed to the holdovers up front. Left tackle Alex George, center Dennie Jones, right guard A.J. Woodworth (who moved from the left side) and right tackle Jordan Burns all played regularly in 2008. They've joined with newcomer Adam Johnson (left guard) to open holes and keep an offensive unit directed by junior quarterback Eric Douglas running smoothly.
When one of the linemen needs a breather, Musselman summons Clayton Little, knowing "we can plug him into any position." Little started Friday's game at tackle.
The victory was Villa Grove's fifth in a row and followed back-to-back losses by four total points. Those setbacks had a profound long-term effect.
"I made the kids grade themselves on film, and we pointed out that we weren't doing anything major wrong," Musselman said. "It was a lot of small things. They saw it wasn't a dead end, and the kids started playing harder."
The type of effort he's witnessed during the turnaround has been sufficient to overcome minor deficiencies in other areas (such as a passing attack that had generated fewer than 300 yards through seven games) and has carried on the recent winning ways.
Against the Broncos, Villa Grove passed once and rolled up all 477 of its yards on the ground. Earvin Westray gained 156 yards on seven carries and scored two TDs. Douglas ran for 71 yards and one TD.
Tyler Dupont, who'd been sidelined since Week 2 with a broken foot, scored the first two CG/D-W touchdowns, one on a 77-yard kickoff return. The Broncos were limited to 50 first-half yards.