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Sports Column | Bucky Dent: Carbondale, Murphysboro put on a show

Bucky Dent

Bucky Dent

There’s no truth to the rumor that the fourth quarter and all three overtimes of Friday night’s instant classic between Carbondale and Murphysboro were brought to you by Buffalo Wild Wings.

If someone didn’t know any better, it sure looked like a TV commercial was playing out in real time as the clock ticked to and past 11 p.m.

Interceptions to end long drives that could have won the game in the fourth quarter. Both teams missing on chances to kick winning extra points in the first two overtimes. And then the play that won’t be forgotten in Murphysboro any time soon.

Ethan Finke’s end-around to the right turned into a game-winning 5-yard touchdown pass on 4th-and-goal to Grayson Guthman as enough Terriers committed to the run that all Finke needed to do was flip a pass to the open receiver in the end zone.

The 3-hour, 36-minute endurance test featured some numbers not likely to be duplicated soon: 130 or so plays from scrimmage, 89 total points, 26 penalties and goodness knows how many big plays from both teams.

One suspected this was going to be a different game before it started. It was the first time the teams had played since 2019; last year’s meeting was canceled due to COVID-19. Two years without playing your biggest rival tends to make the occasion a bit more special.

Sure enough, the Red Devils started the night with back-to-back big plays. They recovered an onside kick and returned it to the Carbondale 30, then scored on the first play from scrimmage when Drew Caldwell beat a blitz and hit Calvon Clemons with a screen pass that he turned into six points.

Those plays set the tone. It wasn’t always the best-played game – no game with 26 penalties can be considered clean – but it was entertaining. The teams played hard but not dirty and both showed plenty of guts.

You want star power? You had Clemons scoring touchdowns three different ways – receiving, interception return and kickoff return. You have Carbondale’s Gabe Hillard doing what a senior leader should do in the second half of a rivalry game: Everything in his power to walk off with the win.

Hillard’s 153 yards and three touchdowns, including one where he took a short pass from Brock Bowlby, evaded tackles and leaped over the pylon to tie the game late in the third quarter, were clutch personified.

Beyond all the numbers and great plays, you had lots of players on both teams digging deep for every ounce of energy they possessed, and then some. There were cramps throughout the night with temperatures in the 80s and high humidity, but guys kept coming back for more. They weren’t about to let their teammates down on this night.

But scoreboards don’t always reward effort or grit. All they care about are points. And because Murphysboro saved its best play for the last play, when the Terriers couldn’t possibly answer, the Red Devils put a 46-43 win into the history books.

As I walked out of Bencini Field about 11:45 p.m., I did a double-take when I saw the admission prices. Four dollars for adults, three for children.

I’m not sure if it’s possible anyone didn’t get their money’s worth out of that game, even if they were a Carbondale rooter disappointed by the final outcome. I’m also pretty convinced we may not see another game better than it all year.

If we do, it’s going to have to go a ways to top the show the Red Devils and Terriers put on in the open-air cooker Friday night.

Bucky Dent covers prep sports for The Southern Illinoisan and also votes on the Wooden Award. He can be reached at bucky.dent@thesouthern.com or at 618-351-5086.

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