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"Miracle On Turf"

Chargers Comeback, Advance to State

Carthage - Do you believe in miracles? The 2008 Illini West Chargers football team does.

This past Saturday afternoon they came back from 17 points down in the final 10 minutes of the game to pull out a 27-23 victory that could only be described as incredible. In doing so the Chargers punched their ticket for the class 3-A state championship game to be played this Friday at the University of Illinois.

In this past Saturday's semi-final contest the visiting Oregon Hawks showed why they came in undefeated. For the game's first 38 minutes they physically dominated the Chargers in every aspect of the game.

At the half the hawks led 16-0 and already had over 200 yards rushing. During that same time, Illini West could barely muster 50 yards of total offense and had not sniffed the Hawk end zone. Oregon was putting a beat down on the Chargers for all to see.

The second half gave Illini West and its fans a glimmer of hope when the usually sure-handed Hawks fumbled deep in their own end to give the Chargers their first bit of good fortune.

The Chargers took advantage when Quarterback Michael Lafferty hit Kris Vincent behind the Oregon secondary, and Vincent raced in for a 24 yard touchdown pass. The critical 2-point conversion failed leaving Oregon up 16-6.

The Hawks then responded with a 74 yard drive to retake any momentum that Illini West had gained with its earlier score. The Hawks successful PAT kick gave the visitors a commanding lead at 23-6. Things were looking very bleak on the Charger side of Fuzz Berges Field.

Despite the daunting deficit and the hard-hitting Oregon defense, the Chargers would not quit. On the ensuring drive they got a couple of first downs and then good fortune smiled down on the Chargers in a big way. Lafferty dropped back and threw over the middle to Zack Burling. The ball was deflected and fell into the waiting arms of Charger tight end Jacob Schmudlach.

Schmudlach's catch and run put Illini West deep into Oregon territory. The chargers would capitalize on a 3-yard Lafferty keeper over the right side to the end-zone. The Hawk's defense would stop the 2-point conversion attempt and Illini West trailed 23-12 with 9:31 left to go in the game.

Wanting to capitalize on their momentum, the Chargers chose to on side the ensuing kick off. Kicker Gage Johnson kicked it perfectly and Illini West's Andy Boyer came away from the pile with the pigskin. The Chargers were now in business again.

The Chargers then drove the 48 yards down the field mixing the run and the pass. They converted a pair of crucial 4th down plays to keep the drive alive and eventually faced a 4th and goal at the Hawk 1-yard line. Lafferty dove in from there on a QB sneak, finally getting in on a second effort. The Charger QB added the conversion on a boot leg around the left end behind good blocks by senior guards Kane Sherman and Kyle Hartzell. The Chargers now trailed 23-20 with 7:37 to go.

The Chargers attempted another on side kick, but this one bounced Oregon's way setting the Hawk's up at mid-field. Illini West needed to stop Oregon offense, something they had found nearly impossible to do all afternoon. This time the Charger defense bent but did not break as they forced Oregon to turn the ball over on downs at the 20. Illini West now faced a 80 yard drive to keep their season alive.

With only 2:46 to go on the game clock the Chargers started their march. Three huge pass plays would key the drive, the first a 47 yard pass, catch and run by Lafferty to Zach Burling. Burling stepped out of bounds at the Hawk 30-yard line to set the stage for the dramatic finish.

Facing a 4th and 8 at the Oregon 28, Lafferty dropped back and drilled a pass to Jacob Schmudlach near the 20 yard line. A tense few moments (that seemed like an eternity) to measure for the 1st down showed Illini West coming up from his line and 4 inches past the stick for a crucial 1st down.

A couple of plays later, Lafferty would bootleg left, set up behind good protection looking to the front corner of the south end zone. There the Charger QB saw a streaking Zack Burling heading toward the pylon marking the goal line. Lafferty's pass found its mark and Burling grabbed the spiral just as he crossed the goal line inside the pylon. Touchdown Chargers!

Lafferty would split the uprights with the PAT kick and the Chargers now led 27-23 with 39.7 left on the game clock. Gage Johnson performed a perfect squib kick and the Illini West kick-off team covered well to down Oregon 70 yards away for a desperation TD.

The Hawks went to the air on their final last gasp attempt and Zach Burling picked off the errant pass to seal the unbelievable Charger comeback victory. After a finally kneel down by Lafferty, the clock ran out and joyous, delirious bedlam ensued as the Charger fans rushed the field to celebrate with their team. Illini West Chargers are heading to state!

Statistically, this was a strange game for Illini West. The Oregon defense took away the Chargers running game and forced them to pass. Illini West would run for only 82 yards on 35 rush attempts while passing for 187 yards. Lafferty threw a career high 18 times, completing 10 passes overall. That total included 10 of 14 in the second half with 2 TD's and no interceptions.

Junior fullback Stefan Flynn led the Illini West rushers with 45 yards on 13 carries. Lafferty picked up 29 yards on 12 carriers, while Drake Schmudlach and Mitch Beals added 30 yards from the two half back spots.

The Charger defense struggled against the strong Oregon rushing attack but did keep the score manageable, while waiting for Illini West's offense to come to life. Senior linebacker Derek Van-Fleet led the way with 12 total tackle involvements (solos, plus assists). Chris Corzatt, Kris Vincent, Zack Burling, Brett Cook, Dakota Hicks, Justin Graves, Ross Hutson, Kyle Hartzell, Carl Hartweg, Tim Yex, and Luke Burling all had multiple tackles listed on the defense chart. Jesse Holtsclaw, Aaron Carrol, Austin Ufkes, and Avery LeJeune were listed for single stops.

The Chargers will now take their 13-0 record into the Friday afternoon's class 3-A state championship at the Memorial Stadium on the University of Illinois campus in Champaign. Kick-Off is slated for 4:00 p.m. as the Chargers will square-off with the traditional downstate 3-A power, DuQuoin High School. The Indians sport a 12-1 record after defeating #1 ranked Columbia in the semifinals.