Photo by Rick Goettsche
Illini West trailed Aledo Mercer County for a total of 14 seconds during Saturday's IHSA Class 2A Playoff game at Fuzz Berges Field.
Hosting a playoff game for the first time since 2012, many saw the Chargers' first-round matchup with Aledo Mercer County to be a difficult one.
The Golden Eagles came into Saturday's game with a 5-4 record, but everyone was well aware both team's regular season records were meaningless coming into the playoff opener, as the long-time rivalry with Aledo (Mercer County) was renewed.
After Nick Vorhies started the scoring with a 3-yard touchdown run, Mercer County responded in the second quarter with a 5-yard touchdown run from Zane Frick. Rashaun King kicked the point after through the uprights and the Golden Eagles led 7-6. That was the only lead Mercer County held throughout the contest.
On the ensuing kickoff, Michael Lord turned on the burners and out ran the Golden Eagles' kickoff unit, scoring a touchdown before quarterback Carter Boyer ran in the two-point conversion to give Illini West a 14-7 lead.
Lord added another score on Illini West's first offensive possession of the second half for a 28-7 lead, allowing the Chargers to run clock the rest of the way and come out with the 50-26 victory.
“Anytime you get a special teams score, that is especially big," Klein said. "That's why (Lord) is so important to this team. Then coming out in the second half, getting the ball and taking it right down and scoring once we got it, that was huge."
"Their quarterback is a difference maker," Klein said of King. "It took us a while to settle in and get used to him rather than what we had seen in the first half."
Illini West Survives Scare
Building on what might have been his best game of the season, Lord capped off the Chargers first offensive series of the second half with a one-yard score, giving the Chargers the 28-7 lead with 5:43 to go in the third quarter.
It's a good thing Lord scored.
After giving Mercer County its only lead of the game on an extra point kick in the first quarter, King came in at quarterback in the second half and nearly brought his team back from the 21-point deficit.
After Lord's score, King connected with Tristin Ham for a 28-yard touchdown strike. King kicked another PAT and Mercer County trailed just 28-14 with 2:15 remaining in the third quarter.
Things got scary for Illini West, as the Golden Eagles finally found a way to slow the Charger offense, forcing a punt on the first offensive series of the fourth quarter.
On the first offensive drive of the fourth quarter for Mercer County, King continued to showcase his arm strength, this time hooking up with Evan Terrill for a 19-yard touchdown throw. Illini West blocked the point after attempt, but the Golden Eagles were now down just one score.
The old saying goes, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.” Thankfully for the Chargers, Lord continued to giveth.
Michael Lord ripped off a 24-yard touchdown run in response to the King touchdown pass, giving Illini West a 36-20 lead after Boyer kept the option and extended his arm across the goal line for the two-point conversion.
"I saw a key block from Ty Jackson that opened up a hole,” Lord said. “I used my speed to cut left and once I saw the end zone, I knew there was nothing stopping me. I was determined to put us back in a comfortable position and I'm glad and thankful I was able to do so.”
The stout defensive play the Chargers showed in the first half continued after the score. Illini West found a way to slow King and the Golden Eagle offense, forcing a turnover on downs after Mercer County failed on a fourth-down attempt.
Just three minutes trickled off the clock between scores for the Chargers, as Sargeant ripped off a 42-yard touchdown run the ensuing drive, putting the game out of reach with the score now at 44-20 with 5:40 to go.
Despite the 24-point deficit, King kept pushing, marching Mercer County down the field for another touchdown throw, this time a 27-yard strike to Steven Speaker II, cutting the deficit to 44-26.
With under five minutes to go in the game, Illini West started to milk the clock, taking off as much time as possible to come away with the win.
In the process, Sargeant ripped off a huge run up the right sideline. Surrounded by Mercer County defenders, it appeared he was going to be stopped. Somehow, Sargeant ducked under the arm of a Golden Eagle defender and followed the foxhole all the way to the end zone, putting the final nail in the coffin and allowing Illini West to come away with the 50-26 win.
“He's done a good job of doing that all year, just finding the little creases,” Klein said about Sargeant. "I didn't see all of it, I lost him there for a second. I thought it was a good gain and that was going to be it.
"He just keeps moving. That's one of the good qualities that our backs have, that they are relentless, they keep working hard, they keep moving their feet, they want to be in the end zone."
Since the convergence of Illini West in 2007, the Chargers lead the all-time series between the two schools 4-2 (not counting Carthage vs. Aledo games from the past).
Sargeant paced the Chargers with 156 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries. Vorhies carried the ball 25 times for 154 yards and two touchdowns. Lord finished with 49 rushing yards on five carries for two touchdowns and added in 84 kick return yards to go with another touchdown.
Illini West takes on Sterling Newman Central Catholic in the second round playoff game this Saturday at Fuzz Berges Field starting at 2 p.m.