MURPHYSBORO — In a game of dominated halves, it was the Murphysboro Red Devils who came out on top Saturday afternoon at Doc Bencini Field.
The Red Devils took a 15-0 lead into halftime, then had to stop a two-point conversion attempt with three seconds remaining in the contest to beat Fairbury Prairie Central, 22-20, in an IHSA Class 4A first-round playoff game.
Trailing 22-14, the Hawks got the ball at their own 35-yard line with 7:09 left in the game. They would then go on a 17-play drive, including a time when they found themselves facing 4th-and-15 before getting a first down.
It wasn't the last time Prairie Central (7-3) would find themselves facing a fourth down on the drive. In fact, it had 4th-and-goal from the three with 10 seconds to go before Wyatt Steidinger hauled in a touchdown pass from Collier Palmore to make it 22-20.
The Hawks had to go for the two-point conversion to tie the contest, and elected to hand the ball off to Steidinger, who tried to get to the left corner. He was met by a host of Red Devils, though, and never got close to the goal line.
All the Hawks could do after that was attempt an onside kick, which Murphysboro (8-2) recovered before quarterback Ryan Finke took a knee to run out the clock.
"We were debating whether to call a timeout, but when you do that, the other team has an opportunity to draw a play up,'' Murphysboro coach Gary Carter said of the two-point conversion his team stopped to secure the victory.
Finke, a sophomore, helped the Red Devils get momentum back after Prairie Central had pulled to within 15-14 early in the fourth quarter.
On 2nd-and-8 from his own 36-yard line, Finke dropped back to pass and hit a wide open Dezmond Clark for a 24-yard gain with nine minutes remaining.
The completion put the ball at the Prairie Central 40-yard line, and the Red Devils went up 22-14 a few plays later when Aiden McNitt scored from a yard out.
"It was clutch,'' Carter said of Finke's completion. "To be honest, I wasn't even looking deep. But it was there and he had the composure to throw the ball to the open guy."
The touchdown drive by Murphysboro lasted all of 158 seconds, as the Hawks dominated time of possession in the second half.
Prairie Central had the ball for nearly 20 minutes over the final two quarters. The Hawks had possession for just a little over nine minutes in the first half.
"We knew that their offense was hard top stop and they made some adjustments,'' Carter said. "You can't just play a half. You've got to play four quarters, and we knew that. We won the first half, then barely won the second half."
The Red Devils got scoring runs of two yards from Kevin Kirkwood, and six yards from McNitt to take a 15-0 lead at the break.
The Hawks scored on their first possession of the second half when Cooper Palmore caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Collier Palmore.
Collier Palmore would score on a 16-yard run early in the fourth quarter, and Steidinger's two-point conversion pulled Prairie Central to within a point at 15-14.
Murphysboro will continue its season next Saturday when it travels for a quarterfinal game against Kankakee McNamara, which beat Olney, 59-18, in their first round tilt.