The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.
The Illini West Chargers went on the road Friday night to far-flung Trenton, Missouri and came home with hard fought 34-23 victory. The Chargers led early, trailed at half-time, and then came back after intermission to secure this important road win. Illini West is now 5-2 on the season.
The Chargers came off the bus running as they scored two quick first quarter touchdowns, both on runs by senior fullback Leighton Johnson. The first TD came on an 80 yard dash through the middle of the Trenton defense. The second TD came on the same play only two minutes later this time from 28 yards out.
Both plays were sprung by good blocking by the interior of the Charger offensive line. Center Tyler Willdrick; guards Braxton Squire and Blaze Murfin; tackles Dylan Chandler and Kendall Hall; and tight ends Colton Mellinger, Gabe Thompson and Dusty Waddell provided good running lanes for the IW backs for most of the game.
The IW lead was short-lived however as Trenton responded with a pair of TD's of their own to take a 15-12 lead into the half-time break. The Bulldog's offense did a good job mixing their option offense up to keep the Chargers off-balance throughout the 2nd quarter.
The Chargers responded after half-time to regain the game's momentum and soon after the lead. Following a good kick-off return, strong runs by Johnson and halfback Nolan Ard got the Chargers squarely into Bulldog territory. Junior halfback Jacob Sholl did the rest of the damage from there, racing in from 38 yards out for the go ahead score.
The Charger defense then responded with a turnover on a fumble recovery by Colton Ragain on the next Bulldog possession, when it appeared that Trenton might respond with a scoring drive of their own to regain the lead. That pivotal take-away by the Charger defense gave the IW offense an opportunity to build upon their last scoring drive and push the lead to a more comfortable margin.
The Charger offense took advantage with a long drive that took most of what remained of the 3rd quarter and culminated with a 1-yard plunge into the end-zone by Johnson. QB Braden Bennett hit Ard with a conversion pass to up the IW advantage to 26-15.
Trenton did not quit however and came back with a scoring drive of their own. The subsequent TD and successful conversion cut the Charger lead to 26-23 with a little over 8 minutes still to play in the game.
Fortunately, the Illini West offense responded with another long scoring drive to ice the game. Primarily mixing sweeps by Ard with inside traps by Johnson, the Chargers got down close to the Bulldogs goal line. Junior halfback Austin Curfman got the final yard off left tackle and dove into the end-zone. The combination of Bennett and Ard connected again for the successful conversion pass, setting the final score a 34-23.
The Charger offense produced 402 total yards on this night, all but 13 of those yards coming on the ground. Johnson had a big night with 266 yards rushing on 27 carries. Ard chipped in with 81 yards on 6 attempts, while Sholl added 39 yards (on 3 carries), and Curfman picked up 4 yards.
Bennett was 1 of 2 passing the football, with the lone completion going to Ard for 13 yards. The other pass attempt was intercepted on a late first half throw.
The Charger defense gave up 252 yards to the Bulldogs option offense, with 220 of that total coming on the ground. The Chargers did pick up a couple of takeaways, on fumble recoveries by Colton Ragain and Austin Curfman to help keep Trenton from doing even more offensive damage.
Senior linebackers Braxton Squier and Jacob Gittings topped the IW tackle chart with 11 and 10 tackles, respectively. Dalton Merry added 9 stops, while Colton Ragain and Dylan Chandler were involved with 7 stops each.
Others on the IW tackle chart included Curfman (6 stops), Johnson (5), Collin Swanson (4), Bryor Grotts (4), Braxton Boyer (4), Nolan Ard (3), Kendall Hall (3), Blaze Murfin (2), Jacob Sholl (2), Holt McKinney (2), Dakota Huss (2), and Gabe Thompson (1).
The Chargers will return to play this Friday night when they host Illinois Valley Central at Fuzz Berges Field. IVC is also 5-2 and looking to secure a play-off spot. Kick-off will be at 7:00 p.m. for this pivotal West Central Conference battle.