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Chargers Line Up Trip To State Finals

Going into Saturday's Illinois Class 3-A semifinal match-up against perennial football power Mt. Carmel, the Illini West Chargers knew they faced a monumental task up-front along the line of scrimmage. One only needed to take a quick peek at the rosters to see that the host Chargers would be giving up an average of 30 to 40 pounds per man along both the starting offensive and defensive lines. However on this bright November afternoon, it would be the massive Golden Aces who would find the match-up too daunting to overcome.

The smaller Charger linemen used quickness, technique, and just plain "heart" to eventually cut the huge Mt. Carmel lines down to size on their way to an impressive 30-14 semifinal victory over the Golden Aces. The win also punches the Chargers' ticket for a spot in this Friday's Class 3-A State Championship at Memorial Stadium on the campus of the University of Illinois in Champaign.

That title contest will be a rematch of sorts, as Illini West will square-off with the Stillman Valley Cardinals. It was the Cardinals who ended the Charger's season in 2009 with a 21-14 overtime win in last falls's semifinals. Stillman Valley went on to win the 2009 state title, after Illini West took the 3-A crown in 2008. Both teams will come into Friday's contest undefeated at 13-0 and with tremendous respect for the other. Kick-off is scheduled for 4:00 p.m.

The Chargers kicked-off in this past Saturdays semifinal encounter and soon forced a Golden Ace's punt. Mt. Carmel's defense proved up to the challenge early on and forced a three-and-out punt by Illini West offense. The game settled into a defensive struggle throughout what proved to be a scoreless first quarter.

The outstanding work up-front by the Illini West defensive line against a huge, powerful Ace's offensive line kept the game scoreless while the Chargers offense searched for an opening in the equally imposing Mt. Carmel defensive front. Defensive ends Kayden Guymon and Dylan Van Fleet; defensive tackles Ethan Lillard, Jacob Jacoby, and Brian Lafferty; and nose tackles Chris Beaver and Travis Cox repeatedly beat back Golden Ace challenges throughout the first quarter and beyond.

Finally, as the 2nd quarter started, the Charger offense began to find small cracks in the Golden Aces defensive front. Five straight runs up the middle by fullback Kyle Huss and a 12-yard option run by Charger QB Zane Schmudlach moved Illini West to the Mt. Carmel 1-yard line. A blast by Huss over the left side put the Chargers on the scoreboard. The successful 2-point conversion run by Ser Whitaker staked Illini West to an 8-0 lead with 6:59 left in the 2nd period.

A recovery by Charger linebacker Jack Carlisle of a Golden Ace's fumble at the Illini West 34-yard line set the stage for the Charger's second score of the first half. This time the scoring drive was a bit quicker as two short runs by Huss set up a 60-yard sprint down the west sideline by Charger speedster Whitaker. He followed that up by adding the 2-point conversion on a screen pass from Zane Schmudlach. That big score came at the 1:16 mark of the first half and put the host Chargers up 16-0 as they entered the halftime break.

Mt. Carmel cut the lead to 16-6 early in the 3rd quarter as they took advantage of a Charger fumble. This sudden shift in momentum was short-lived for the Golden Aces however, as the Charger offense regained control with a pair of 2nd-half scoring drives.

The first would come late in the 3rd quarter and was set up by a 41-yard pass from QB Zane Schmudlach to a leaping Ser Whitaker. Schmudlach would follow the catch up with a 10-yard scoring run into the south end zone. Whitaker added the successful conversion run for a 24-6 Illini West advantage.

A few minutes later, Illini West would essentially put the game away with another scoring drive. This time senior halfback Drake Schmudlach raced into the north end zone from 15-yards out. Although the conversion pass failed, the Chargers now led 30-6 with only about 10 minutes left in the game.

Mt. Carmel would score once more in the game to set the final margin, but interceptions of Golden Ace's passes by Drake Schmudlach and Jack Carlisle soon ended any hopes of a miracle comeback by the visitors from southeastern Illinois. The Chargers run out the clock and ended the game and Mt. Carmel's season.

Illini West outgained Mt. Carmel 338 total yards to 245. The bulk of that Charger total came on the ground as Illini West backs picked up 285 yards and 48 carries. The Charger offensive line of tightends Colin Beals, Dylan Pieper, and Chris Holtsclaw, tackles Dylan Van Fleet and Brian Lafferty, guards Mason Beals and Jack Carlisle, and center Jacob Jacoby consistently created running room for the talented Illini West runners.

Kyle Huss topped the Charger ground attack with 128 yards on 27 carries. Ser Whitaker also topped the century mark with 105 yards on 13 rush attempts. Drake Schmudlach added 30 yards on 6 attempts while Zane Schmudlach picked-up 22 yards on 2 carries.

Zane Schmudlach also completed 2 of 2 pass attempts for 53 yards. Whitaker had both of the Charger receptions. Whitaker also attempted a halfback option pass, but it missed its intended target by a slim margin.

The Charger defense did its job by taking away the Golden Ace's ground attack. Mt. Carmel ended up picking up only 114 yards on 31 carries. The Aces had come into the game averaging nearly 300 yards per game on the ground.

Senior linebacker Jack Carlisle led the way with 12 total tackles. Senior defensive back Ser Whitaker tallied 9 stops, while senior secondary mates Kevin Bray and Cody Carson had 7 tackles, each.

Defensive tackle Ethan Lillard notched 4 tackles, while fellow defensive linemen Jacob Jacoby and Brian Lafferty had 3 tackles each. Others on the tackle chart were Brandon Gehle (2), Drake Schmudlach (2), Jack Bastert (2), Hayden Fox (2), Kayden Guymon (2), Dylan Van Fleet (1), Trey Bartett (1), Travis Cox (1), and Trey Ourth (1).