WEST FRANKFORT — It was a mystery who came up with the interception that kept Harrisburg from scoring the game’s first touchdown Friday night.
It wasn’t any kind of mystery what happened after that.
West Frankfort ripped off 42 straight points, including 35 in a dizzying assault of big plays in the second quarter, as it improved to 4-0 for the first time in 14 years with a 42-7 SIRR Ohio rout of the Bulldogs at Johnson Field.
“Feels great to be 4-0,” said Redbirds running back Madison Allen.
Four consecutive wins looked to be in question for most of the first quarter. Quarterback Connor Eaton, the man who makes West Frankfort’s offense go, lost fumbles on the first and sixth plays from scrimmage deep in Redbirds territory.
Harrisburg (0-4, 0-1) squandered the first chance with a fumble inside its 5 that Sam Cooksey dove on at the 1. How it failed to convert the second opportunity for an early lead shaped the game’s remainder.
From the Redbirds’ 18, quarterback Isaac Crabb threw off play-action to wide-open Dylan Morris over the middle. Morris appeared to make the catch, until Kyle Hammers lived up to his last name and knocked the ball loose.
Bricen Forgatch arrived on the scene to corral the deflection in the end zone. It happened so quickly that the public address announcer couldn’t figure out who made the play. The chain gang wasn’t sure, and the West Frankfort statistician didn’t even know when asked two quarters later.
Instead of a 7-0 lead that could have been 14-0 had it not been for the fumble, the Bulldogs had nothing.
West Frankfort had momentum.
“Turnovers are huge,” Redbirds coach Brian Beery said. “We constantly preach to the kids about taking care of the ball and taking the ball away. You can see how that turned the game around. The other team hangs their head and we’re jacked.”
Allen started pounding away on the ensuing possession. He rushed seven times for 47 yards on an 11-play, 80-yard drive, softening the Harrisburg defense with runs between the tackles.
Eaton, his turnover jag behind him, kept on the first play of the second quarter and zipped 19 yards to begin the touchdown barrage. Allen made it 14-0 less than three minutes later with a 5-yard run, capping a 56-yard drive that lasted only 77 seconds.
“When we didn’t score first and then fell behind 14-0, you could see the kids go, ‘Here we go again,’” said Bulldogs coach Gabe Angelly.
While Harrisburg didn’t handle adversity in optimum fashion, West Frankfort took a different tack. One play after a touchdown pass was flagged for being an illegal forward pass, Allen rumbled 61 yards up the middle to make it 21-0 with 5:25 left in the half.
Eaton took his turn at the big-play buffet with 1:36 remaining, speeding 64 yards on an option keeper for a 28-0 advantage. Eaton tacked on a 15-yard touchdown run with 20.0 seconds left, two plays after a fake punt went awry, to cap the 35-point onslaught.
The Redbirds outgained the Bulldogs 234-15 in the quarter.
“We definitely picked it up in the second quarter,” Allen said.
Eaton bagged his fourth score of the night on a 42-yard run with 19.0 seconds left in the third quarter, cranking up a running clock for the game’s remainder.
Harrisburg managed to avoid being blanked for the second straight week when Crabb connected with Will Holland on a 6-yard touchdown pass with 6:01 left in the game against West Frankfort’s second team defense.
Allen finished with 193 yards on 22 carries, while Eaton tacked on 141 on 12 attempts. The Redbirds rushed for 364 yards and held the Bulldogs to 181 total yards.