CARTERVILLE — Have a day, Andrew Hellriegel.
Carterville's junior quarterback completed 21-of-25 passes Saturday for an unofficial count of 307 yards and four touchdowns to lead the favored Lions to a 42-12 win over visiting Harrisburg.
With the win, Carterville improves to 8-2 overall and will travel to 9-1 Freeburg for the second round of the Class 4A playoffs next Saturday. The Bulldogs finish their season at 5-5.
Lions head coach Brett Diel said that Harrisburg made some defensive adjustments from last week's game when the same two teams squared off.
"I thought Harrisburg did a great job of coming in after last Friday (45-12 loss to the Lions) and trying to make us one dimensional. They pretty much took away our run game by bringing more guys up (to the line of scrimmage) than we could block. But, we have some pretty good athletes out there on the edge," Diel said. "We trust those guys by putting the ball up and they found a way to put some points on the board and get us a win."
Hellriegel, in his first year as varsity starter, was a perfect 13-of-13 throwing the ball in the first half for 212 yards. Junior Blake Burkey was his favorite target, catching five first-half passes for 74 yards, which included gains of 29, 20 and 16. He added three catches for 21 yards in the second half.
People are also reading…
Senior Townsend Barton snagged three tosses for 64 yards in the first half, one a 48-yard touchdown. Another junior, Peyton Bittle, had two catches for 55 yards in the first half.
Hellriegel said he has plenty of weapons from which to choose when standing back in the pocket or rolling to one side of the field or the other.
"They (Bulldogs) decided they were going to bring the house and shut down our run game, but we have a lot of athletes on the edge that makes my job super easy. I just have to put it in places where they can catch it. Our guys were getting open and I was able to get the ball to them," Hellriegel said. "That allowed us to build some momentum in the first half."
The game started in the worst of ways for the Bulldogs.
On the opening kickoff, Travis Fann tracked down a squib kick, but then fumbled after he was hit and the Lions recovered at the Bulldogs' 5.
Two plays later, Barton bolted into the endzone from one yard out. The extra-point kick from Jaron Luttenbacher was off the mark and the score remained 6-0 with 10:39 left in the first quarter.
After the defense forced a three-and-out, the Lions got the ball back at their own 44. A few minutes later, Hellriegel tossed the first of his four TD passes, hooking up on fourth and long with Burkey from 29 yards out. Barton's two-point conversion run upped the lead to 14-0 at the 4:12 mark.
There was no further scoring in the first period.
Harrisburg got back in the game when Luke Miller sacked Hellriegel that thwarted a Lions' drive. The Bulldogs then marched 63 yards downfield and scored on a fourth down three-yard burst by senior fullback Bryant Lester at the 4:37 mark. A two-point conversion run by Ross Rider failed, leaving the deficit at eight at 14-6.
The Lions bounced back in a big way, scoring with 2:48 left in the half when Barton hauled in a pass along the right sideline, sidestepped a defender and scored from 48 yards out. The point-after kick from Luttenbacher was true for a 21-6 lead.
The Lions got the ball back before intermission and made the Bulldogs pay on a 10-yard pass play from Hellriegel to Nolan Hartford with 25 seconds left before the break. The PAT was good. That raised the bar to 28-6.
Hellriegel explained that he is a much more effective quarterback now than in the season opener.
"At Benton, I wouldn't go through my progressions. If the first guy wasn't open, I just tucked it and ran. But when you saw Nolan Hartford score today, Townsend Barton wasn't open on that play. He was the primary read. I stepped up and found another open guy. It's all about letting plays develop. I've developed a little more patience, I guess."
Carterville would tack on two more second-half touchdowns, a 5-yard pass to Bittle and the other a three-yard run by senior Ethan Lannom.
The Bulldogs reached paydirt one final time on a three-yard plunge by Lester with 3:51 left in the contest.
Harrisburg first-year head coach Matt Griffith said he made the decision to move from a three-man front to placing nine and 10 men in the box.
"We wanted to force them to pass the ball because the run game was all but taken away from them. We weren't going to let them beat us up the middle or counter. If they were going to beat us, they were going to have to beat us out in space."
Griffith said posting a 5-5 record and returning to the playoffs for the first time in several years is a great stepping stone to future success with the program. Both the freshman squad and junior varsity went undefeated this fall.
"We have a lot of talent coming up through the ranks, but these seniors changed the culture to a winning culture," Griffith said. "And I told them I was proud of them for that. As for me, I have a lot to learn. Fortunately, I have a great coaching staff to work with which makes my job way easier."