By Tony Hooker
Blake Smith completed four passes for 221 yards and a touchdown, and Villa Grove Heritage defeated a feisty Tri-County team 34-6 in their home opener Friday, Sept. 6.
Smith also rushed for a team high 67 yards and three touchdowns in a well-balanced effort.
Tri-County won the opening toss and elected to defer to the second half by kicking to VGH, and the Blue Devils made them rue the decision, marching 65 yards on seven plays. The drive culminated with Smith finding Ierik Sorenson (two catches for 101 yds., 1 TD) for a 23-yard td strike with 9:13 left in the first period.
The defense immediately went to work, forcing a three and out and getting the ball back to the offense at the Tri-County 42 after a shanked Titan punt. The Devils took only four plays to cover the distance, as Chase Burwell (six carries for 44 yards, 1 TD) broke around right end for the 28-yard score with 6:55 left in the opening period, and the score stood at 12-0.
The Titans, however, weren’t about to give up, and mounted a nine-play drive to the VGH 35. Sorenson thwarted the threat however, picking off TC QB Mitch Pollock at the 1-yard line.
After a 2-yard Smith keeper got the Devils a little breathing room with a two-yard keeper, disaster struck as a missed exchange resulted in a Tri-County fumble recovery in the end zone and the score stood at 12-6 with 55 seconds left to go in the opening period.
The two teams then exchanged drives as Villa Grove Heritage’s defense, led by Clayton Knierim (eight tackles) began to assert itself, forcing a punt. Again, fate reared its ugly head and the punt caromed off a VGH blocker and was pounced on by an alert Titan coverage man.
Again, the Devil D bowed their necks and, led by Zayzen Price, (seven tackles, one tackle for loss) stopped TC 1 yard short of a first down at the VGH 19. After Kehm Shirley (seven carries for 28 yards, one reception for 78 yards) gained 7 on first down, Smith found Sorenson for a 78-yard bomb to the Titan 7, and from there, Smith called his own number for the touchdown. After the two-point conversion, the VGH lead stood at 20-6 with 4:36 left in the half. Again, the Titans refused to yield, marching into VGH territory to the 28 before Price came up huge, throwing Titan ball carrier Daniel Drake for a 2-yard loss on fourth and 1. VGH then took a knee to let the first half clock expire.
TC received the second half kick off and immediately went to work, moving the ball to midfield before a Burwell (three tackles, one TFL, one fumble recovery) tackle behind the line of scrimmage and two straight incompletions led to a Tri-County punt attempt, which was blocked and recovered by Carson Howard at the TC 45. Before the shocked Titans could recover, Smith found Howard down the left sideline for 42 yards to the 3, and then once again, Smith took it in from there. After a successful two-point conversion, VGH held a 28-6 lead over their stunned guests.
The defense, led by Logan Nohren (eight tackles) once again held, forcing another Titans punt. Unfortunately for the Devils, the usually sure-handed Sorenson took his eyes off it a moment too soon and muffed it, and the Titan cover team pounced on it at the VGH 42. Once again, the Devils’ defense bent but didn’t break, allowing Tri-County to advance to the 5 before Burwell snuffed the drive by jumping on a fumble at the VGH 3. Two Shirley carries netted a total of 2 yards, and things looked grim for the hosts, facing third and long at their own 5 as the third quarter. Smith and Shirley had other ideas, as they connected on a swing pass that resulted in a 78-yard gain to the TC 17. An illegal formation penalty, and two straight incompletions led to a turnover on downs, and the Titans set up shop at that point. Once again, the VGH D, led by Keatan Junglas, (four tackles, one tfl) held its ground, forcing another Titan punt, which rolled dead at the Villa Grove Heritage 48. Two straight Ezra Ely (five carries for 43 yds) netted 17 yards, and Smith added a nifty 22-yard run, and Ely tacked on another 7-yard carry to set VGH up at first and goal from the 5 before Smith made his only serious gaffe of the contest, throwing into coverage and being intercepted in the end zone. Any Titan jubilation was short lived however, as Nick Coffin stepped in front of a TC pass near the 40 and returned it to the TC 20. After Shirley gained two on first down, an illegal shift penalty moved it to the 23, and Smith took it home from there to set the final score at 34-6. The final Titan drive was thwarted as Josh Jones made two tackles for loss, Dealin Price made a stop in the TC backfield, and Elijah Kiesel put the capper on the evening, throwing the Titan ball carrier for a 4-yard loss and allowing VGH to assume victory formation.
The Blue Devils will host Arcola on Sept. 13 at 7 p.m.