Friday night’s SIRR Mississippi opener at Carterville was a welcome throwback, particularly to a writer working under increasingly tight deadlines.
In an era of three-hour high school football games where teams pass more than they run and the clock never seems to move, this was an interesting anachronism. The host Lions and Du Quoin combined to play a first half that lasted just 45 minutes of real time.
One of the good things about moving around this country, as this sportswriter has done durin…
Part of it was that both teams ran the ball on a combined 38 of 45 plays from scrimmage. The other was that they both played a wonderfully clean half. There was just one flag in the half and only two more in the second half.
It was a bit like watching 1980s high school football, where any pass play was considered a daring strategy. The only thing that could have made it even more authentic were entire coaching staffs stalking the sideline in those old Bike polyester shorts that were the thing in those days.
The Indians seemed to set the tempo for most of the night. Running frequently behind center Jake Rogers, who consistently created holes for a spate of running backs and quarterback David Lee, they grinded out first downs and controlled the clock.
About 10 years ago, I interviewed a minor league manager named Frank Fultz.
They were a game underdog, but Carterville ended up avoiding the upset when it unleashed its new age passing game. Benton’s Keegan Glover is the best quarterback around here, but the Lions’ Andrew Hellriegel doesn’t have to take a back seat to anyone else.
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After watching Carterville twice, one thing I have to say about coach Brett Diel is that he’s done a shrewd job of designing the offense around the things his QB can do. That’s a quality not every coach owns.
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Hellriegel might not have a Brett Favre rocket arm, but he can make good decisions and possesses a good touch. The Lions also have playmakers on the perimeter in Peyton Bittle and Townsend Barton.
So most of their passing game is short throws designed to get those guys the ball in space outside the hashmarks. If they can make a man miss and a teammate makes even a decent block, then there’s a chance for a big play.
The game-winning touchdown pass Friday night was equal parts scheme and defensive breakdown. On 4th-and-15 from the Du Quoin 46, Carterville sent Barton deep, hoping the defense would honor his speed.
Bittle ran an out and planned to turn it into an up down the right sideline. When a cornerback jumped the out, the up became easy. All Hellriegel had to do was not miss the throw – it’s not as easy as one thinks with the game on the line – and it was nearly a walk-in touchdown.
It was a gutpunch loss for the Indians, who appeared to author their own dramatic ending on Lee’s 4th-and-24 touchdown pass on their previous possession. The result dropped them to 2-2 with Mater Dei, Nashville and Murphysboro still remaining. Getting to playoff eligibility won’t be easy for them.
Meanwhile, the Lions are now looking at a 7-2 or maybe 8-1 season. They should be favored in four of their last five games, the one exception being their trip to Nashville next week. Seven wins can get you a first round home game in the playoffs and eight gets you a better chance of winning multiple games.
That could be Carterville’s reward for fighting through an inspired effort by a well-coached underdog and prevailing in a game that could have passed for one from the days when games kicked off at 8 p.m. instead of 7 p.m.
This one ended at 9:15 p.m. Thanks to a blast from the past, we made deadline with time to spare.
Bucky Dent covers prep sports for The Southern Illinoisan and also votes on the Wooden Award. He can be reached at email@example.com or at 618-351-5086.