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The Illini West Chargers football team saw its season came to an end last Saturday when they were beaten by the Athens Warriors 28-20 in a Class 2-A second round play-off game. Athens used a record setting performance by its fullback to improve to 8-3, while Illini West finishes at 6-6 overall.
The Chargers got on the scoreboard first as they used a first quarter drive to take an early lead. Senior halfback Nolan Ard swept around end for the six-yard touchdown. The conversion pass failed putting IW up 6-0.
The Warriors took the ensuing kick-off and methodically marched downfield behind the powerful running of their senior fullback, Chris Basso. Basso's bruising running style would eventually set the tone for the entire game as he would rush for a Class 2-A record 52 attempts, finishing with 227 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Basso would finish this first Athens scoring drive with a 2-yard run and the successful conversion kick would give the Warriors a 7-6 lead early in the 2nd quarter.
The Chargers would respond by taking the kick-off back to regain the lead. Charger return man Jacob Sholl fielded the kick at his own 15-yard line, found a seam up the middle, and the senior sprinted the 85-yards to the far end zone. A successful conversion run by IW QB Braden Bennett put the Chargers back in front 14-7.
Athens bounced back with another scoring drive of their own. This time the Warriors mixed the pass with Basso's pounding runs and eventually hit on a 6-yard scoring play with only a few ticks left on the half-time clock. The successful PAT kick knotted the score at 14-all going into the intermission.
Athens continued that successful offensive formula in the second half by mixing powerful fullback runs with a precision short passing attack. They used long drives to not only score points but to keep Illini West's offense off the field.
After a scoreless 3rd quarter, Athens pounded and passed their way downfield to score early in the 4th quarter to regain the lead in the game.
The touchdown and successful PAT kick gave Athens a 21-14 lead.
Illini West responded with another big special team's play to close the gap. This time Ard would return the kick-off 85 yards for the score. Unfortunately for the Chargers their conversion pass failed and they would trail 21-20.
Athens then proceeded to run off most of the 4th quarter clock before scoring with a little over a minute to go. That touchdown and PAT kick gave the Warriors a 28-20 lead but also gave IW a final chance to tie the game.
The Chargers got decent field position on the short Athens kick and moved into Warrior territory hoping to make a big play to push the game into overtime. It was not to be, however, as the Athens defense stiffened, and came up with a final turnover to end the Charger drive and their season.
Although the score does not indicate it, Athens dominated much of this game and probably earned this win more than Illini West gave it away. The Warriors ran 84 plays to only 31 by IW. They out-gained the Chargers 370 yards to only 144. The Chargers could never really find a solution to stop the Athens fullback and the Warriors were good enough in the passing game to hurt IW when they packed the line of scrimmage.
Illini West finished their season at 6-5. The loss also brings to a conclusion the high school football careers of 15 Charger seniors. Nolan Ard, Braden Bennett, Austin Curfman, Avery Fader, Kaden Huston, Kyle Jacoby, Colton Mellinger, Dalton Merry, Nathan Palmer, Colton Ragain, Alex Rhodes, Jacob Sholl, Jeffrey Ufkes, Dustin Waddell, and Adam Wright all gave considerable time and effort to help make the last four years of Charger football successful. These young men can look upon their contributions to the program with pride and hopefully take away many positive memories from the experience.