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The Illini West Chargers trailed until the final minute of their game last Friday night, but a late touchdown and conversion by their sophomore quarterback Kennedy Gooding, gave them the lead and the victory. Gooding scored on a 15-yard run to tie the game at 26-all and his conversion run gave them the 2-point lead that would set the eventual final score.
Coming off a tough road loss last week, the Chargers were desperate to avoid a 2-game losing streak heading into next week's conference opener versus Quincy Notre Dame. LeRoy had other thoughts and came ready to grab a victory of their own. The Panthers took the opening kick-off and marched 65 yards to a score and a 6-0 advantage.
The Chargers responded with a scoring drive of their own. The big play on the drive was a 31-yard pass from Gooding to sophomore halfback Connor Artman. Artman made a great adjustment to the ball and made a twisting, diving catch at the LeRoy 4 yard line. Gooding got the final yard into the end zone on a QB sneak to tie the game at 6-all.
LeRoy responded by putting together another long drive, gouging the IW defense with both inside and outside runs. A 3 -yard run by their halfback gave them a 14-6 edge that they would take into the half-time intermission.
Pivotal to keeping the game close was a goal line stand late in the half by the Charger defense. With the Panthers inside the IW 5-yard line, the Charger defense responded to the challenge and turned the Panthers away. A score there by LeRoy might have totally changed the course, momentum, and outcome of this game.
The Chargers came out of half time energized and after an exchange of fumbles scored on their second possession of the half to tie the score at 14-14. A nifty 43-yard run by junior half back Joe Adkisson put IW on the board and a conversion pass from Gooding to Adkisson tied the score.
LeRoy wouuld respond immediately with another lengthy scoring drive. The Charger defense was on its heels and could not seem to solve the riddle of the LeRoy run attack. A short Panther run gave them a 20-14 lead with 2:12 left in the 3rd quarter.
This time the Charger special teams would have the answer on the ensuing kick-off. Artman received the kick-off at his own 19-yard line. Following his blocking and breaking a couple of tackle attempts, Artman eventually broke into the open at about mid-field and then raced the rest of the way to the north end-zone. The 81-yard kick-off return knotted the score at 20-all heading into the game's final quarter.
The game became mired in an exchange of turnovers as both teams put the ball on the ground while trying to solve the other's defense. Then with 3:19 to go LeRoy took advantage of one of the turnovers as their linebacker picked up a Charger fumble and raced 60 yards to a go ahead score. The Charger defense turned away the conversion attempt but it still trailed 26-20.
Fortunately for the home fans, the Chargers didn't quit. They drove 65 yards to set up Gooding's tying score and winning conversion. A huge play on the drive was Gooding's 26-yard pass completion to senior end Nick Greenslaugh. An 18-yard run by Artman also was pivotal in keeping the late drive alive.
The Chargers gained 311 totals yards in this game, while giving up 261 yards to LeRoy. For IW, 241 of those yards came on the ground and 70 came through the air. Artman led the Chargers ground attack with 86 yards on 8 carries. Christian Peacock and Kyle Tanner added 58 yards each, while Adkisson picked up 29 yards and Gooding chipped in 10.
Gooding hit on 3 of his 7 pass attempts. His completions were to Artman (31 yards), Greenslaugh (26) and Norman (13). Gooding did not throw an interception.
The Charger defense was led by senior linebacker Peacock's 18 total tackles (solos plus assists) Artman was involved in 14 tackles, while tackles Brandon Stanuch and Taylor Boston were involved in 10 each.
The rest of the tackle chart included Norman, Tanner and Ross Neff with 7 total tackles each, Alex McCune with 4, Jensen Corzatt with 3, Dominick Foster with 2 Gooding with 2, and Landon McKeown with 2.
The Chargers return to action this Friday night when they host the visiting Quincy Notre Dame Raiders in the West Central Conference opener for both squads. Both teams are 2-1 overall and looking to gain momentum for the conference race and a push to the playoff berth. Kick-off is set for 7 p. m.