By Tony Hooker
Ask any football coach, and they will tell you that games are won and lost in the trenches.
Villa Grove Heritage’s 35-0 first round IHSA class 2A playoff loss to Nashville was the personification of this old axiom. The Blue Devils rushing attack was held completely in check, with senior Chase Burwell’s eleven yards leading the team.
Nashville won the toss and elected to receive, and the Hornets wasted no time in reaching the endzone, putting together an eight-play, 80-yard drive to grab a 7-0 lead with 10:27 remaining in the first quarter.
VGH then went three-and-out and an excellent 41-yard punt by Ierik Sorenson pinned the Hornets at their own 19. This time, the Devils defense, led by Keagan Patterson (unofficially thirteen tackles) rose up and forced an NHS punt, which duck-hooked out of bounds at their 43-yard line, giving the Blue Devils great field position. Unfortunately for VGH, Kehm Shirley (eight carries for one yard) lost the handle fighting for extra yardage on first down, and Nashville pounced on the pigskin, taking over at their own 44. An epic twelve-play drive followed, and a four-yard touchdown run made the score 14-0 with 3:42 left in the opening stanza.
After Patterson’s kick off return set VGH up at their own 33, the offense began to find a little room in the passing game, with Blake Smith (unofficially 123 yards passing) finding Ierik Sorenson (four catches for 75 yards) for strikes of 3 and 27 yards, before a holding penalty and an intentional grounding call stalled the drive in Nashville territory. This time the Hornets drive ended with Blake Smith’s sliding interception at the VGH 34. Again, the Devils could muster no offense and were forced to punt, with Sorenson’s kick cutting the wind and rolling dead at the Nashville 45. Again, the turnover monster stung the Hornets, with Chase Burwell (eight tackles, three for loss) jumping on a loose ball to regain possession at the Nashville 40. Consecutive runs by Burwell and Shirley move the ball for nine yards and both teams were flagged for an offsetting unsportsmanlike conduct on third down before Burwell’s fourth down dive was stopped a whisker short of the first down marker and NHS took possession. The Hornets then put together a fourteen-yard-play, 61-yard drive to extend their lead to 21-0 with 4:49 left in the half.
Nick Coffin’s nifty fifteen-yard kickoff return gave VGH possession at their own 27, and the Devils again found some room via the passing game, with Carson Howard’s (four catches for 57 yards) nifty thirty-nine-yard catch moving VGH from their own 19 to the NHS 45 before the drive would stall at the Hornet 35.
Nashville then converted two key first downs before firing a thirty-two-yard touchdown strike with thirty-seven seconds left in the half to set the margin at 28-0 at the half, effectively sealing the outcome.
The two teams would then basically play to a second half standstill, as Zayzen Price ended his high school career with a bang, garnering eleven of his game high sixteen tackles (three for loss) in the final two periods. Senior Clayton Knierim played hard until the end as well, with the last of his eight tackles coming when he ran down a receiver after a twenty-yard completion. Senior Beau Beesley made the most of his final quarter of action as well, bursting through for a tackle for loss and garnering another stop. Beesley narrowly missed making the play of the season for the Devils as a Hornet screen pass just eluded his outstretched hands. VGH finishes with a record of 5-5, while Nashville (9-1) moves on to a second-round contest at Bismarck Henning.