WEST FRANKFORT — There was no sign of Hank Williams Jr., nor any of his rowdy friends, but Monday Night Football made its Southern Illinois debut last night.
Morthland College played the first-ever college football game in West Frankfort, defeating Greenville College 32-20 in a junior varsity game at historic Johnson Field.
No, there was no tailgating, no marching bands, nor television timeouts, but there were several hundred engaged fans.
And, the Patriots didn’t disappoint, scoring on their first two possessions.
Morthland’s first home touchdown came at the 7:34 mark of the first quarter when Benton’s Matt Buntin fired a 24-yard strike to Justin Davis. Herrin’s Brent Milner scored on the two-point conversion.
Buntin scored the Patriots second touchdown.
The start was just what Morthland players and staff hoped for.
“It’s nice (to finally play at home),” said R.J. Kuh of Christopher. “We’ve been on the road for the last 11 weeks. It’s nice to finally have the home field advantage, get the crowd into it a little more. It’s going to be exciting.”
And, what was Kuh looking for in his first home collegiate game?
“A lot of green, a lot of green over here,” he said, pointing to the bleachers. “Loud … a lot of noise. The students are super excited about it. As a team we try to make as many volleyball, fall baseball and softball games as we can.
“This is a first-year program. This is our first home game we’ve ever had. There is absolutely a sense of history. We’re starting something new here. That’s exciting.”
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The Patriots played four previous games, compiling a 0-3-1 mark.
Record notwithstanding, Morthland coach Mike Rude saw the game as an opportunity to showcase the program.
“I think that’s the biggest thing,” he said. “This is going to allow us to let people know, who still don’t know, that there is a very small Christian college in West Frankfort that does have a football program. This is a place for kids to go that are basically Division III players.
“I hope we have people from the different communities in Southern Illinois show up. I’ve gotten quite a few emails that people are going to be here, just for them to be here to support the kids.”
Fans were still filing in midway through the second quarter, filling most of the seats at Johnson Field.
“I think it’s special for Southern Illinois,” said Herrin football coach Jason Karnes. “It’s a special place for football, to get college football here other than SIU, coach (Mike) Rude and coach (Rod) Sherrill and all those guys are doing a great job.
“They’ve got some local talent. I’ve got a kid here playing, Milner, that I coached last year. Hopefully, they’ll get more and more guys next year and this will take off. I’m behind it 100 percent. I just look forward to it.”
Supporting a former athlete, Du Quoin’s Spencer Cook, and curiosity brought out former Du Quoin basketball coach Wendell Wheeler.
“He’s got an opportunity to play college football,” Wheeler said. “It’s the first season at Morthland. I wanted to support him and be here for him.
“I’m just curious to see what level they’re at.”