BENTON — Murphysboro’s postgame huddle was brief and understated.
Coach Gary Carter kept his Red Devils in the huddle for less than five minutes after a 55-0 win over Benton. The victory was momentous for the Murphysboro program.
The relatively quiet huddle ended with the team holding their helmets aloft and yelling, “clinched.”
Murphysboro improved to 6-1, clinching its first playoff berth in three years. The victory also assured the Red Devils of a share of the SIRR Ohio Division crown. The Red Devils share the title with Herrin and West Frankfort.
“The rain probably helped us a little bit because they throw the ball 50 percent of the time,” Carter said. “That was probably in our favor. As far as the win, that was huge. To clinch, that was what we were shooting for. I love watching my seniors play, seeing them get after it and have some success. It’s gratifying.”
This was the Red Devils night from the start.
Logan Evans fielded the opening kickoff and broke to his left, handing the ball off to Jake Hoppenstedt at the Murphysboro 15. With the Benton pursuit heading the opposite direction, Hoppenstedt roared down the Rangers’ sideline all the way to the 14.
Two plays later, Hoppenstedt scored on a six-yard run.
Murphysboro’s special teams came up with another huge play on the ensuing possession when Jared Lawrence blocked a Benton punt. That set up the Murphysboro offense at the Benton 34.
This time it took the Red Devils just four plays to reach the end zone. Kevin Kirkwood’s one-yard run gave Murphysboro a 14-0 lead just 3:26 into the game.
The Red Devils led 21-0 at the end of the first quarter and 42-0 at the half, triggering the running clock.
Murphysboro’s final score of the half came when 6-foot-1, 270 pound defensive lineman Maurice Valliant snagged a Grant Gordon pass at the 35 and rumbled down the right sideline for a touchdown.
It wasn’t good conditions, but the kids came out that first half and played pretty well,” Carter said. “I’m very proud of the senior class. They’ve busted their tails. They’ve bought into everything I’ve been trying to sell the kids. They put the time in during the summer and did everything they had to do to be a good football team.”
In the end, the Red Devils do what they do best – they ran the football. Murphysboro piled up 382 rushing yards. No one amassed 100 yards, but Dezmond Clark ran for 96, Aiden McNitt 85, Hoppenstedt 77 and Zane Caraway 53.
“That’s kind of what we do,” Carter said. “We run the ball. That’s what we do. We got some weapons and our offensive line does a pretty good job.”
The Red Devils close the season next week against Du Quoin.
“We just have to go week by week now,” Carter said. “We’re in the playoffs. We have a tough Du Quoin team next week. We have to get a good week of prep in and see what happens.”
Benton falls to 1-7 and closes its season at home against Anna-Jonesboro next week.