CARTERVILLE — Carterville quarterback Keaton Pestka scored on three long touchdown runs and rushed for 159 yards to lead the Lions to a 25-3 win over Pinckneyville in a River-to-River Mississippi Division football game on Senior Night at Lions Field on Friday night.
"I’ve never been more happy to be on this football team, especially on my senior night, and to do as good as what I did," Pestka said. "I’m normally not as shifty as I was tonight, so it must have been the atmosphere."
Carterville improved to 3-5 on the season and 2-3 in the Mississippi, while Pinckneyville dropped to 3-5 and 1-4 in the conference, eliminating the Panthers from playoff contention.
"We played well on all sides of the ball," said Carterville coach Dennis Drust. "Offense scored on big plays, defense scored a big touchdown on a return and that’s what it’s all about. We’ve been emphasizing being consistent the last few weeks, and tonight we were much more consistent offensively and defensively."
Offensively, the Lions finished with 295 yards rushing on 45 carries and three yards through the air on 1-of-3 passes.
Defensively, the Lions held the Panthers to 113 yards rushing on 33 carries and threw for 45 yards on 5-of-9 passing while scoring on an interception return. Out of the nine Panther offensive possessions, the Lions forced four punts, got the ball back twice on downs and scored a touchdown. The other possessions ended in a field goal and at the half.
"We just didn’t get the job done," said Pinckneyville coach Tod Rushing. "We have to do a better job of blocking. We’re not a good enough passing team to rely on just throwing the ball. Our throwing has to be play action stuff off the run, so we have to be able to run the ball better and get some first downs to keep the defense off the field, and also to move and score a few points."
Pinckneyville took the early lead on a 38-yard field goal to open the second quarter, but that lead lasted less than two minutes.
Bryce Anderson returned the kickoff 35 yards to set up the Lions at the Pinckneyville 45. Four plays later, facing a 4th-and-3 from the 38, Pestka fumbled the snap, but picked it up and raced through the stunned Panther defense and into the end zone for the touchdown. Colin Laczynski made the extra point kick through the uprights, and the Lions led 7-3 with 8:28 remaining in the half.
The Lions pulled a trick play out of their playbook on the kickoff, and Kralis recovered the onside kick at the Pinckneyville 38. Facing 4th-and-9 following an illegal procedure penalty, Pestka’s pass to Kralis netted only three yards to turn the ball back to the Panthers.
Following punts by both teams, the Panthers took over the ball at their own 15 after a 44-yard punt by Laczynski. They drove to the Lions 41, thanks to back-to-back runs of 14 and 20 yards by Downard, but the half ended on a seven-yard pass from Higgins to Chase Fulkerson at the Pinckneyville 48.
Pinckneyville received the second half kickoff and began at their own 35. The Panthers drove down to the Carterville 26 with the help of a 21-yard pass from Riggins to Wyatt Gale and a 15-yard pass interference penalty.
Facing a 4th-and-12 from the 26, defensive back Dylan Moore intercepted Riggins at the 10 and raced the length of the field for the touchdown. With 7:20 left in the third quarter, the Lions led 13-3.
"We were in nickel, so I was just watching everything," Moore said. "The ball was just underthrown, and I came and got it. I scored only because the guys did a really good job of blocking for me downfield."
After getting the ball back on downs at their own 31, the Lions launched a seven-play drive. It ended with Pestka scoring on a 29-yard draw play on 1st-and-10 to up the lead to 19-3 with 1:08 remaining in the third quarter.
The Lions' defense held the Panthers to three-and-out to end the third quarter. Following a 39-yard punt, the Lions took over on the Panthers' 47. Five plays later, Pestka scored on a 27-yard run. With 9:50 left, the Lions led 25-3.