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Charges Win Thriller In Battle Of Top-Ranked Teams

The Illini West Chargers used a late 35-yard touchdown run by senior speedster Ser Whitaker to come back to take a thrilling 22-20 victory over the visiting Quincy Notre Dame Raiders last Friday night at Fuzz Berges Field in Carthage.

This highly anticipated match-up of west central Illinois small-school football powers featured two undefeated teams, both of whom came in ranked #1 in their respective classes in the latest state football polls. The game lived up to much of the hype and fanfare that it had generated once the schedule had been set nearly a year ago.

Class 3-A #1 Illini West took quick advantage of a QND fumble in its own territory on the Raiders' opening possession. The Chargers would need only four plays to cover 45 yards as senior fullback Kyle Huss plowed in from 1-yard out to cap the drive.

A nicely blocked 30-yard counter run over the offensive right side by senior halfback Drake Schmudlach was the big play on the scoring drive. A strong double team block on that right side by tackle Dylan Van Fleet and guard Mason Beals, coupled with lead blocks by pulling guard Jack Carlisle and tackle Brian Lafferty sprung Schmudlach for the substantial gain.

Schmudlach would add the two-point conversion to run after Huss' TD to put the Chargers on top early by an 8-0 margin. This quick score came with 10:35 still to show in the first period.

The Illini West defense forced the Class 4-A #1 ranked Raiders to punt on their next possession and the Chargers took over this time about 80 yards away from the QND endzone. That distance was quickly traversed by Whitaker. First, he broke off a 54-yard sweep down the west sideline, set up by key blocks from tight end Colin Beals and guards Jack Carlisle and Mason Beals. Then, he finished the drive with a 23-yard touchdown run using the same play as the longer jaunt.

The Chargers then went to the well one more time as they used Whitaker on the exact same play to covert successfully on the 2-point conversion. This would give Illini West a 16-0 advantage with 5:37 still to go in the first period.

The high-powered Raider offense would then respond on its next possession. Taking advantage of its massive offensive line and an all-state senior tailback, the Raiders proceeded to march right down the field against the much smaller Illini West defenders. QND capped the drive by going into score at the 1:16 mark of the first period. However, the Charger defense rose to the occasion on the conversion attempt and stopped the Raider runner short of the goalline. This left the score at 16-6 in favor of Illini West and would prove crucial later in the game's waning moments.

The score would remain the same the rest of the first half as both defenses began to make big plays to stop the opposition offense. The Raiders did have a late-half scoring opportunity, but it went bad when the QND quarterback and center mishandled an exchange inside of the Illini West 2-yard line on the half's final play.

QND was the only team to dent the end zone in the 3rd quarter as they capped another nice drive with a 23-yard touchdown run by their all-state tailback. This time the visitors elected to kick the extra point and narrowed the Charger lead to 16-13 entering the games' final quarter of play.

QND had used it size and strength to pound away and wear down the much-smaller Chargers in the 2nd half and now seemed poised to take the game from the hosts.

The Raiders methodically marched down the field and eventually took the lead in this battle of gridiron powers. The Raider TD and PAT kick gave QND its first lead of 20-16 with only 1:18 left on the game's scoreboard clock. Suddenly the night seemed much colder for the seemingly beaten hometown heroes and the crowd that had come out to cheer them on. However, the best was still yet to come on this crisp first night in October.

The Chargers took the ensuing kick-off and marched the necessary 64 yards in only 4 plays. The final 35 yards would come on a 35-yard sweep around the left side by Whitaker. Once he got into the Raider secondary, he cut across the grain and knifed his way through the bewildered QND secondary to the endzone. Although the conversion run would fail, the seemingly beaten Chargers now led 22-20.

QND would attempt to rally in the 38 seconds that remained. but it was not to be for the visiting Raiders. Their final pass would find its way into the hands of IW safety Cody Carson for an interception just as time expired and the Charger faithful would storm the field in celebration.

The Chargers were outdone in almost every statistical category in this contest except the final score and the crucial turnover category. QND outgained IW 425 total yards to 271 yards, but the Raiders also turned the ball over 4 times. Meanwhile. the Chargers had only one turnover.

The Chargers also did a good job of managing field position and used their kicking game to help keep QND on a long field for much of the night. Field position and winning the turnover battle would prove pivotal in helping IW secure this victory against a very strong opponent.

Whitaker was the leading rusher for the Chargers, as he picked up 146 yards on 17 carries. Drake Schmudlach added 72 yards on 10 rushing attempts, while full back Kyle Huss gained 36 yards on 13 carries. Quarterback Zane Schmudlach added 4 yards on 2 attempts and also connected on 1 of 4 pass attempts for 13 yards. Whitaker had the lone reception for the Chargers.

The Charger defense was led by linebacker Jack Carlisle with 9 total tackles. Defensive backs were busy on this night against QND's spread offense, with Trey Bartlett and Cody Carson each recording 7 tackles, while Kevin Bray posted 6 stops. Also on the Illini West tackle chart were Dylan Van Fleet (5 tackles), Jacob Jacoby (4), Jack Bastert (4), Drake Schmudlach (3), Ethan Lillard (3), Connor Beals (2), Ser Whitaker (2), Brandon Gehle (2), Brian Lafferty (2), Kayden Guymon (1), and Trey Ourth (1).

Van Fleet and Carson each intercepted a Raider pass, while fumble recoveries were posted by Guymon and Bartlett to aid the Charger defensive effort.

Zane Schmudlach punted 4 times for a 33 yard average, including pinning the Raider offense inside its own 10-yard line twice, in helping IW win the crucial battle for field position.

Illini West now sits at 6-0 on the season and will certainly retain their #1 ranking in the Illinois Class 3-A football polls. The Chargers will go on the road this week when they travel to Pittsfield to square-off with the always dangerous Saukees. Kick-off this Friday night is slated for 7:00 p.m.