MAHOMET — Jon Adkins started the week telling his Mahomet-Seymour defense enough was enough.
The Bulldogs gave up more than 30 points in each of their first two losses of the season, but the first-year M-S coach was more concerned with the lack of turnovers. And by lack, he meant zero turnovers whatsoever.
That all changed early in the first quarter Friday night when Carson Thomas picked off a deflected pass and returned it 50 yards for a touchdown, a defensive move that defined the night for the Bulldogs as they picked up a 35-14 victory over visiting Mattoon at Frank Dutton Field.
“Defense always sets the tone, but then to be able to set the tone not only with a pick but a pick-six as well? Man, I can’t say enough good things about how our defense played as a whole,” said Adkins, who picked up his first head coaching win at M-S.
Thomas also made a big stop on fourth and 12 late in the first half, wrapping up Blake Sapp 2 yards short of a touchdown to keep Mattoon (1-2, 1-1 Apollo) off the scoreboard until the second half. The Bulldogs (1-2, 1-1) allowed the Green Wave to convert just three times on 11 third-down plays throughout the night.
“I think (the pick-six) hyped us up a lot because we would’ve gotten down if it wasn’t picked off,” Thomas said. “And that big play really just got momentum going.”
M-S quarterback Braden Finch said he and his teammates couldn’t stop screaming after Thomas’ opening score, saying it felt like the Bulldogs “had just won state” because of the confidence it gave the offense.
Finch took a few drives to find a groove, but the combination of both his and Clay Hubble’s legs helped keep the Bulldogs afloat until they were able to open up their passing game on a 25-yard touchdown connection between the two that pushed the Bulldogs ahead 14-0.
Finch, who entered the game with three interceptions and two touchdown passes, went 5 of 8 for 67 passing yards and three touchdowns and rushed for another 64 yards. Hubble hauled in two of those touchdown passes, finishing with four catches for 73 receiving yards while adding 95 rushing yards on a team-high 13 carries to give M-S a balanced look.
“We talked all week about getting the monkey off our backs,” Adkins said. “We needed this one. This was huge for our kids, huge for our community and just everyone who supports this program.”