CANTON — All West Frankfort coach Brian Beery was hoping for in Saturday's Class 4A playoff opener at Ron Fahnestock Field against Canton was a chance.
The visiting Redbirds led at the half, but the Little Giants rallied in the second half in recording a 29-15 victory.
Canton improved to 8-2 in advancing to next Saturday's 2 p.m. second-round contest at top-seed Columbia (10-0). West Frankfort saw its season end at 6-4.
Canton senior Cameron Lucas would be a huge thorn in West Frankfort's side. He picked off three passes, including one for a 96-yard game-changing return for a score in the second half.
After a scoreless opening quarter that included turnovers by both teams, West Frankfort got on the board first, driving 59 yards in six plays. Logan Tomanovich's 15-yard run made it 7-0 with 9:47 left in the opening half.
Canton answered with a 69-yard, 10-play drive capped by a 4-yard TD run by QB Clint Wells that saw him flip into the end zone. Drake Yerbic and Lucas connected on the two-point conversion that gave Canton an 8-7 lead.
Ian Matheny's 28-yard run capped a 9-play, 75-yard drive that gave the visitors a 15-8 halftime lead.
“At the beginning of the season, I don't think anybody really gave us credit to even have a chance of making the playoffs,” said Beery. “Not only did we make it, but we held a very good Canton team to where we were winning at the end of the first half.
“We just could not hold on to it.”
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Canton got the ball first to open the third quarter. After Wells was stuffed twice for no gain, the junior connected with Bryce Adams for a 32-yard gain. Wells then broke free for a 28-yard TD run on the next play that pulled Canton even at 15-15 just over two minutes into the second half.
On its next drive, West Frankfort took advantage of personal foul and pass interference penalties in driving the ball to the Canton 8. But on a fourth-and-5, Redbird QB Brandon Beery throw the ball over the middle into the waiting arms of Lucas. He ran down the right sideline in front of the home team bench, made one cut to avoid a West Frankfort tackler and finished the 96-yard return that gave the Little Giants a lasting lead of 22-15 at the 5:14 mark of the third quarter.
Canton's defense stepped up again later, forcing a three-and-out that included a 15-yard sack by Ethan Magnuson. A short punt and a 12-yard return by Kade Stancil gave Canton the ball at the West Frankfort 20.
Yerbic lost eight yards on the first play, but Wells took the ball straight up the middle on the next play, running 28 yards for a score that made it 29-15 with 7:28 remaining.
Canton finished with 122 yards rushing on 38 carries and 115 yards passing on five completions.
West Frankfort finished with 153 yards rushing on 40 carries, along with 39 yards passing.
“I thought we did a great job stopping the run,” said coach Beery. “I think what ultimately hurt us is that they wore us down.
“I believe we were a 3A school playing in a 4A bracket,” he added. “We gave it the best shot that we could. We just fell short.”