SESSER — For more than 20 minutes, the Fairfield Mules had been stymied offensively. The Black Diamond’s top scoring offense was shut out until the final minute of the first half, but then they got going and put away the host Sesser-Valier-Waltonville Red Devils, 32-16, on Friday.
The win gives the Mules their third straight BDC championship, the last two outright with undefeated regular seasons. It was also head coach Justin Townsend’s 100th career win in his 18th year. Sesser-Valier fell to 7-2 on the year, tied for second with Eldorado.
Sesser was in Fairfield territory most of the first half, but they never could punch it in, with the Mules' defense buckling down in the red zone.
“When the field shortens, things just get tougher,” Sesser coach John Shadowens said after the game. “They did a great job stiffening down there and they got used to what we were doing.”
The Mule offense eventually broke through with a long Dylan Heifner run setting up a seven-yard score from Wyatt Gilbert with 26 seconds to play in the half.
“The Heifner run was a big play. I started that drive just hoping to go into halftime tied at zero and get the ball to start the second half. For us to get a score there was huge,” Townsend said.
Sesser tied them at eight with Reid Basso taking in a quarterback keeper midway through the third, but Fairfield scored twice within two minutes early in the fourth. Heifner punched in both, the first from one yard out, the second from three yards out. The latter was set up by an interception by Reese Lee, his fifth of the year.
“He has done that all year,” Townsend noted. “We had talked about that route, we knew it was coming at some point and we told him all week when it happens to jump it. He did a great job of reading it.”
Basso scored again with 5:41 to play to get Sesser back within a score, but the Mules offense put the game away with a three-minute scoring drive and a third Heifner touchdown with 2:32 to play.
Both teams finished with 241 yards of total offense, and both had two turnovers, but the Mules capitalized on their red zone trips more frequently.
Heifner finished with 133 yards on 20 carries, while Gilbert had 76 yards and one score and Lee had 48 yards.
“Our offense did a great job of closing it out, after having to grind the whole first half,” Townsend said.
Basso led Sesser with 106 rushing yards, adding 40 through the air, but with two interceptions.
For Sesser, this may feel like a season of “what if?” They started the year with 38 kids out, knowing they had to stay healthy. They lost top star Eli Gunter in week five, and had to play without Basso and Jayon Malone for a couple weeks as well.
“My hat is off to our kids and their resiliency,” Shadowens said. “We had to reinvent ourselves after week five. Everything was centered around Gunter, he was one of the best players in the conference. But, we are starting to gel again. We are righting the ship at the right time going into the playoffs.”