CHAMPAIGN — The element of surprise is missing from the St. Joseph-Ogden football offense.
The “wow” factor is not.
One week after he carried the ball 42 times — three attempts shy of the single-game school record — SJ-O senior Austin Hedrick was called upon again 42 more times Friday at Henneman Field as the Spartans upended St. Thomas More 27-21.
Hedrick’s final carry was the game-winner. He ran 9 yards with 20.3 seconds remaining, dragging two defenders the final 2 yards into the end zone to break a 21-21 tie.
He didn’t expect to be as much of a workhorse as he was.
“We knew they had a good rush defense,” Hedrick said. “The game plan was to pass.”
SJ-O (4-2) passed on its first two plays, both of which Dalton Walsh completed. The third play went to Hedrick. He gained 7 yards, and coach Dick Duval figured why change the plan of attack.
“We knew we could mix it up,” Duval said, “but when we started to run effectively, I tend not to go away from it.”
The Spartans had 52 running plays. All but 10 were by the 170-pound Hedrick, who gained 265 yards.
“He’s our tailback, and we’re known as Tailback U,” Duval said. “Our fullbacks know they have to block.”
Hedrick’s heroics came moments after he fumbled the ball away at the Sabers’ 9-yard line.
“That frustrated me, and I knew I had to bounce back from that,” he said.
Teammate Jake Stewart gave him the chance.
Hedrick’s lost fumble came with 44.5 seconds left in the game. On the next play, Stewart picked off his second Storm Joop pass of the game — the first was in the STM end zone — and gave SJ-O the ball back at the 14 after a 7-yard return.
“Storm’s a big play-maker. He likes to make things happen,” Stewart said. “I saw the receiver coming my way.”
Though Duval acknowledged, “I knew he was tired,” he called Hedrick’s number twice more. On first down, he gained 5 yards. The next play, he reached the end zone for the fourth time.
The game still needed a finishing touch.
Spartans sophomore Jake Pence — the holder on Orion Ciota’s extra-point placements — provided the clincher. On the first STM play after falling behind, Pence intercepted a Joop pass 42 yards downfield.
“Jake plays good coverage and is very good at reading balls,” Stewart said. “It’s always this way in the St. Joe-St. Thomas More rivalry, and it will be like that in every single sport.”
Duval hopes the victory provides some momentum for the final one-third of the season.
“We needed this,” he said. “It has been an up-and-down season. We hope this will propel us in the right direction.”
Walsh completed 8 of 11 passes — including all four in the second half — for 83 yards. Hunter Hart had six receptions for 73 yards.
STM freshman Josh Parker rushed for a team-high 70 yards and scored the Sabers’ first two TDs. The third, which created a 21-21 tie with 8:11 left in the final period, was a 15-yard pass from Joop to Cam Deedrich.
The first half featured 12 combined penalties, including eight in the opening 71/2 minutes.
St. Thomas More was limited to 80 rushing yards by a Spartan defense — led by nose tackle Jake Rahn with three behind-the-line tackles.
“Jake relies on his quickness to create problems, and he did a tremendous job,” Duval said.
TEAM CONF. OVERALL
Paxton-Buckley-Loda 3 0 5 1
Momence 3 1 4 2
St. Joseph-Ogden 3 1 4 2
Clifton Central 2 1 5 1
St. Thomas More 1 3 3 3
Iroquois West 0 3 1 5
Watseka 0 3 1 5
NEXT FRIDAY’S GAMES
St. Thomas More at PBL
Iroquois West at Clifton Central
Momence at Dee-Mack
Watseka at St. Joseph-Ogden