VANDALIA — In the biggest game of their high school careers three Anna-Jonesboro senior football players rose to the occasion to lead Anna-Jonesboro to a 56-41 road win over Vandalia in the quarterfinals of the IHSA 3A playoffs.
Anna-Jonesboro remained undefeated at 12-0 and advanced to the semifinals for only the fifth time in the school history and the first since 2006, when the three teammates were in first grade. The Wildcats are the last remaining local team in the hunt for the state title after Herrin was eliminated by Rochester.
Quarterback/defensive back Bryce Osman rushed for 170 yards on 17 carries and scored four touchdowns while also throwing a touchdown pass and intercepting a pass.
"I have to give a shout out to Kevin Wright for a fantastic block on one of my touchdowns" Osman said. "I was running and all of sudden I see him come over and block the guy down and I just hit the crease right behind him. It was phenomenal."
Fullback/linebacker Jayce Turner led the team with 214 yards rushing on 30 carries while scoring two touchdowns.
"They had a lot of big strong kids up front, but our line did their job, which allows us to keep pounding it," Turner said. "We got put on our heels for a minute when we quickly fell behind, but we didn’t let it get in our heads and what it really came down to was, our guys played with more heart."
Running back/cornerback Arieh Hart rushed for 134 yards on 12 carries, and caught a 30-yard touchdown pass while also marking key tackles on defense and returning kicks.
"I had a slow game last week, but coach and all the fans have supported me, telling me to be patient because this was going to be my game, so I was determined to come out here and play some football," Hart said. "Coach told me to play physical on defense, and as far as returning punts and kickoffs those are the first play on offense, so I had to make something happen to give us good field position.
After the Wildcats fell behind 14-0 on touchdown runs of 65 and 73 yards and Osman threw an interception at the Vandals' 14-yard line, the veteran QB led the Wildcats on a 52-yard, 8 play drive, finishing with him calling his own number for a 16-yard touchdown run.
"I knew at some point we were going to face adversity and today was the day," Osman said. "The test of a true team is can you overcome adversity and we did today. You are never promised tomorrow, so you have to treat every day like it is your last."
After the Vandals went up 20-7 early in the second quarter Osman and Hart teamed up on the 30-yard touchdown pass to cut into the lead again completing a three-play, 55-yard drive.
"We’re a good team, so we know how to play when we’re down," Hart said. "We just play smart and kept to our game plan. Defensively we knew they had two very good players and we were able to contain them when it counted."
Hart then recovered a Vandals fumble on the ensuing kickoff to set up a 7-play, 30-yard drive, with Osman scoring from the six to give the Wildcats their first lead of the game, 21-20, at the half.
Building upon that momentum, Osman and Turner engineered a 6-play, 62-yard drive to open the second half with Osman scoring on a 45-yard run.
After the Vandals’ quick strike offense struck again on a 72-yard touchdown pass, the Wildcats found themselves at their own 18. The Wildcats needed just six plays to march the length of the field, including a 27-yard run by Hart and a 17-yard run by Turner before Reid Morrison scored on a 16-yard run.
The Vandals struck again returning the kickoff for a 90-yard touchdown to cut the lead 35-33 with 6:55 left in the third quarter.
After forcing the Wildcats to punt, the Vandals were driving for the go-ahead score when Osman intercepted a pass at the seven. Needing 93 yards to get some breathing room, Hart took a handoff and raced around right end for a 36-yard run to get it started.
Osman then gained 13 yards behind left guard and Turner finished the quick drive with a 44-yard touchdown run with no time left on the clock in the third quarter.
After the defense forced Vandalia to punt, Hart returned the kick 13 yards to set up the offense at the Wildcat 41. Facing a 2nd-and-4, Osman raced 53 yards for his fourth touchdown run of the game.
Leading 49-41, the Wildcats got the ball back at the 50 after Hart had returned the punt for 20 yards with 3:36 remaining in the game. Turner took over from there, running the ball seven straight times, ending with a 24-yard touchdown with 1:05 to put the game away.