DU QUOIN — Call it the Miracle on South Street.
Du Quoin defensive lineman Braden Higgins recovered a fumble in the end zone with one minute left Saturday, lifting the seventh-seeded Indians to an improbable 28-25 first round playoff win over defending Class 3A champion Monticello at Van Metre Field.
The victory propels Du Quoin (9-1) into a second round matchup next weekend at No. 2 Williamsburg (10-0), which eliminated St. Joseph 54-26. The Sages finish their season at 6-4.
It appeared that Monticello’s bus ride home from Perry County would be a happy one after its defense made a goal-line stand in the last two minutes. Kolton Knuffman broke up a fourth down pass for an open Drake Kremer in the end zone with 1:55 remaining, giving the Sages possession at their 6.
But the Indians flipped the script dramatically. Chris Brown was trapped on a jet sweep for a 5-yard loss, the ball barely making it out of the end zone. A quarterback sneak netted nothing on second down, Du Quoin taking its last timeout with 1:06 left.
Monticello ran the ball up the middle on third down, but it was stripped at the goal line and the 6-foot-6, 260-pound Higgins fell on it, setting off a wild celebration by his teammates and the majority of a near-capacity crowd.
“I don’t know who stripped it, but I just saw the ball and fell on it,” Higgins said.
The Sages had one final crack at it, but the last two of their 16 penalties and a sack forced them into third and 26. Quarterback Nic Tackels completed passes for 17 and 12 yards, but time expired after split end Matt Carr was wrestled down following the final catch at the Indians’ 36.
Monticello coach Cully Welter considered running another quarterback sneak on the fateful third down play, but changed his mind, convinced a run up the middle would gain the yardage that would enable them to take a safety on fourth down.
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“We decided to run the play because we figured if we take a safety, we take it,” he said. “I didn’t anticipate the fact we would cough the ball up in the end zone. But credit Du Quoin with making a big play. This one hurts for my kids.”
Tackels completed 21 of 31 passes for 329 yards and two touchdowns, both to wide receiver Spencer Brown. The duo teamed up for a 37-yard score on the second quarter’s first play for a 12-0 lead, then gave the Sages a 25-21 edge on a 6-yard connection with 6:44 left in the game.
That was the culmination of a rally from a 21-12 deficit after the Indians reversed the momentum of a rotten first quarter in which they gained minus 6 yards and had just one first down. Du Quoin found footing in its running game, peeling off 80 and 58-yard touchdown drives to take a 14-12 halftime advantage.
Quarterback Alex Zimmerman, who hit on touchdown passes of 6 and 8 yards to Wade Roberson and Braeden Pursell, respectively, said adjustments keyed the turnaround.
“We changed our blocking scheme a little bit because they were doing things we didn’t expect them to do,” Zimmerman said. “They threw a different defense at us.”
Konnor Harris’ 27-yard run up the middle on the first play after a 16-yard punt upped the Indians’ advantage to nine points at the 5:23 mark of the third quarter. That polished off an 18 ½-minute stretch where Du Quoin owned the ball for all but 3:53, erasing its 12-point hole.
Tackels’ 1-yard sneak with 3:13 remaining in the third trimmed Monticello’s deficit to 21-19, setting the stage for a finish that won’t be forgotten by anyone any time soon.
Especially in Du Quoin.
“To be able to play a program like that and get a win like this,” Zimmerman said amid a joyous post-game scene, “means everything. It’s just amazing.”