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The Illini West Chargers took to the road this past Saturday, traveling almost to the Indiana border, to square off with the Georgetown-RidgeFarm Buffaloes in a first round Illinois Class 2-A play-off match-up.
The Chargers made the long trip worthwhile by combining a very strong defensive effort with a ground based, ball-control offense. Those two ingredients allowed Illini West to post a convincing 22-0 shut-out of their higher seeded hosts.
The Chargers, seeded 8th in their quadrant of the 2-A bracket, improved their record to 6-4 on the season. The Buffaloes, the top seed in the quadrant, finished their 2014 season at 7-3. Illini West now advances to face the Athens Warriors this coming Saturday. Athens is seeded #5 and has a record of 7-3.
After a scoreless first quarter, the Chargers took control of this contest with a three touchdown flurry in the game's second period.
The first score came on a 1-yard plunge by IW senior fullback Austin Curfman to cap a 16-play drive early in that 2nd quarter. A successful 2-point conversion run by Charger senior halfback Nolan Ard pushed the early IW advantage to 8-0.
The Charger defense kept the IW momentum going by stopping the Buffaloes on downs during their next series. The visitors took over on their own 40-yard line and soon began another relentless march to the end zone.
This time the IW drive would take 7 plays and cover 60 yards. Curfman would again do the honors, this time on a 4-yard burst up the middle. Senior quarterback Braden Bennett would attempt to pass for the conversion, but ended up scrambling around the offensive right for the successful 2-points and a 16-0 Charger lead.
The Chargers defense then stepped up on Georgetown's next series to keep the momentum on IW's side. Faced with a Buffaloes 4th down attempt at the Charger 35 yard line, the IW defense harassed the Buffaloes QB into an errant pass. Instead of having to stop the hosts from scoring late in the half, the Chargers would have another opportunity of their own to put more points on the scoreboard.
Using 4 running plays to get near midfield, the Charger offense gave the impression of just trying to patiently move the first down chains. The Illini West went for the big strike.
On second and short, Bennett faked to Curfman up the middle, dropped back and hit a sprinting Dusty Waddell deep behind the Buffalo secondary. The Charger senior tight end hauled in the pass and raced the final 20 yards into the end zone.
The touchdown pass covered 51 yards and gave Illini West a 3-score advantage, with only about a minute to play in the first half. The Illini West defense would force a fumble on G-RF's last possession of the half, and the Chargers went into the break up 22-0.
The second half featured continued strong play by the Charger defensive unit and time-consuming drives by the Illini West offense. Eventually the Chargers wore down the Buffaloes and IW would close the game with a 9-minute drive down to the G-RF 3 yard line, before Bennett took a knee from the victory formation.
The Chargers would amass 311 yards of total offense this game while picking up 19 first downs. The Illini West defense would hold the Buffaloes to under 200 yards and only 8 first downs. Time of possession was nearly double in favor of the Chargers.
Curfman did the yeoman share of the duties on the ground for the Chargers as the senior fullback picked up 166 yards on 31 carries. Senior halfback Nolan Ard chipped in with 44 yards on 11 carries and junior running back Kyle Tanner added 31 yards on 10 carries. Bennett also added 19 yards on 5 rush attempts.
Bennett would only attempt 3 passes in this game and his lone completion was the big 51-yard touchdown toss to Waddell right before the end of the first half. Another key for Charger's winning effort was that they did not have a turnover in this game.
The Chargers offensive line stepped up to a big challenge this week in helping to open holes against a team determined to stop the run. Right ends Waddell and Colton Mellinger, tackles Jensen Corzatt and Alex Rhodes, guards Avery Fader and Christian Peacock, and center Kyle Jacoby were able to consistently give the IW backs room to run. This challenge will only get bigger as the Chargers progress in these play-offs.
The Charger defense gave one of, if not their best, all-around performances of the season. They kept an athletic Georgetown offense off-balance and contained throughout the game. The Buffaloes could not run or pass the ball effectively enough to maintain drives and punt the ball into the end zone.
The Charger tackle chart included the following (and their tackle totals): Curfman (6 total tackles), Waddell (7), Dalton Merry (4), Nolan Ard (2), Jacob Sholl (4), Kyle Tanner (3), Nate Palmer (5), Kaden Huston (8), Brandon Stanuch (2), and Taylor Boston (6).
Curfman, Palmer (3), Tanner (2), and Boston (2), all posted tackles for lost yardage in this game. Palmer also forced and recovered a Buffalo fumble that ended their final drive of the first half.
The Chargers will hit the play-off trail again this Saturday when they travel to Athens to square off with the Warriors. The Warriors are out of the Springfield-Area Sangamon Conference and are making their fifth straight play-off appearance. This 2nd round IHSA Class 2-A play-off game will kick-off at 1:00 p.m.