DEKALB — Murphysboro’s first trip to a state championship football game was an accomplishment that will live in school annals, but the outcome of the Class 4A final Friday night is one it might prefer to forget.
Unbeaten Richmond-Burton scored on its first seven offensive possessions and lived up to its high billing in a 50-14 rout of the Red Devils at Huskie Stadium.
Dezmond Clark’s 92-yard kickoff return on a reverse with 2:03 left in the third quarter got Murphysboro (11-3) on the board, and he added a 5-yard touchdown run with 3:04 remaining in the game. But little else went right for the team that electrified its community with four straight playoff wins.
The Rockets (14-0) blew it open with 27 straight third quarter points, highlighted by an 87-yard kickoff return by Nicholas Legnaioli to start the period. A fumble led to a 33-yard field that Dalton Wood cashed in with a 7-yard touchdown run and a 31-0 advantage.
Scoring jaunts by Tyler Anderson and Reymundo Guajardo activated a running clock for the final 14-plus minutes. Richmond-Burton outscored its opponents 613-97.
“They were well-coached, and we couldn’t run inside that often,” Red Devils coach Gary Carter said. “We had a little bit of success outside and a little bit of success throwing the ball, but that was a very good defense, different from what we’ve seen this year and in all my years in my career.”
Clark rushed for 71 yards on 17 carries for Murphysboro, while Jamarr McZeke threw for 64 yards on 6 of 13 accuracy. Wood compiled 106 yards on 13 attempts for the Rockets, which averaged nearly 10 yards on 31 attempts against a run defense which shut down nearly everyone it’s faced this year.
Needing a quick start, Murphysboro instead found itself playing from behind less than six minutes into the game. After converting a third and long to start the night, the Red Devils had to punt and managed just a 25-yard boot.
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Richmond-Burton quickly zipped 68 yards in five plays, polishing off the drive when Legnaioli zoomed 14 yards around left end at the 6:09 mark. The Rockets controlled the point of attack and were able to give Murphysboro trouble by running a fast tempo, preventing it from properly lining up a couple of times.
The process repeated itself on each team’s second drive. A short punt led to a 53-yard touchdown march, 44 of it covered on a short pass from Jacob Huber to Dalton Wood. On third and goal from the 1, Wood barged in with 2:01 left in the quarter for a 14-0 advantage.
The Red Devils controlled the ball for most of the half’s remainder but weren’t able to finish off possessions with points. They reached the 23 early in the second quarter, but McZeke couldn’t find anyone open on a 4th down pass attempt and took an 11-yard sack.
After Legnaioli converted a 25-yard field goal with 4:25 remaining in the first half, Murphysboro again reached the 23-yard line with eight seconds left following a 21-yard run by Zane Caraway. However, Logan Hutson picked off a pass in the end zone as time expired.
Despite controlling the ball for nearly 17 minutes and converting 4 of 8 third downs, the Red Devils found themselves in a 17-0 halftime hole.
“I’m not going to lie to you, we were down,” McZeke said. “If we had scored on one of those drives in the second quarter, we would have been much more positive.”
It got no better on the scoreboard after halftime for Murphysboro, but Clark found solace in a couple of late scores, as well as the fan turnout. The number of Red Devil supporters appeared to equal Richmond-Burton fans despite a drive of nearly six hours.
“It didn’t matter that we were down by 40,” Clark said. “They didn’t leave. They stayed and watched us. They truly cared.”