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The Illini West Chargers dropped a tough one last Friday night as they fell in overtime to the Central Panthers 25-22. The visiting Chargers rallied from 22-8 deficit to force the extra period but then came up short as Central kicked a game-clinching field goal to set the final 3-point margin.
The Chargers actually struck first in this game between a pair of unbeaten and ranked opponents, as senior quarterback Braden Bennett hit senior tightend Dusty Waddell in stride for a 47-yard touchdown pass midway through the first quarter. A Bennett toss to senior halfback Nolan Ard secured the 2-point conversion and an early 8-0 IW lead.
Central then took control by dominating the 2nd quarter and the early part of the 3rd frame as well. The Panthers took advantage of crucial IW mistakes and pounded their ground attack to a 22-8 advantage into the middle of that 3rd period.
Finally the Chargers responded and put together a drive of their own midway through the 3rd quarter. A 9-yard run by Bennett got IW back on the scoreboard and closed the deficit to 22-14 with 5:21 left in the third.
After a drive stalled at the goal line midway through the 4th quarter, the Chargers finally got it going again late in the stanza. This time Ard would cap the drive with a 12-yard touchdown run. Bennett then connected with senior halfback Dalton Merry to tie the game at 22-all and force the pivotal overtime period.
The Chargers actually outgained the Panthers 335 total yards to 257. Both teams did most of their damage on the ground as IW collected 277 yards rushing on 47 attempts, while Central amassed 257 yards on 53 carries. Central did not attempt a pass, while Illini West threw 5 times, completing a pair for 58 yards.
Ard rushed 15 times for 98 yards to lead the Chargers ground game, while Bennett was close behind with 96 yards on 10 attempts. Senior fullback Austin Curfman added 19 carries for 67 yards, while Merry chipped in 16 yards on 3 attempts.
Bennett did all the passing for Illini West and his two completions were the 47 yard touchdown toss to Waddell and a pivotal 11-yard completion over the middle to senior tight-end Colton Mellinger to keep their game tying drive late in the 4th alive on a 3rd and 10 play.
Senior linebacker Kaden Huston topped the tackle chart with 18 total stops (solo tackles plus assists), while senior defensive end Nate Palmer had 11 and Waddell chipped in 10 stops from his safety spot.
Curfman had 9 total tackles, while Merry, Ard, and junior linebacker Kyle Tanner had 8 each. Taylor Boston (7 tackles), Brandon Stanuch (6), Colton Ragain (5), Jacob Sholl (4), and Christian Peacock (3) also had multiple tackles.
The Chargers record now drops to 2-1 overall as they prepare to open West Central Conference play this week when they travel to Quincy to face the Raiders of Quincy Notre Dame High School. QND is also 2-1 and both squad will be working to get a leg up in the early conference race. Kick-off is slated for 7:00 p.m.