By Tony Hooker
Quarterbacks, like shooters in basketball, have to have short memories.
Good thing for Villa Grove Heritage that Blake Smith subscribes to this notion. After being thrown for a loss on his first two carries and misfiring on his first six pass attempts, Smith calming found a leaping Carson Howard in the end zone for a 28-yard touchdown pass with 1.3 seconds remaining in the first half and the Devils road that momentum, plus a punishing defense and diverse rushing attack, to an 18-0 whitewashing of Argenta-Oreana.
VGH received the opening kickoff and mixing in runs from Parker Stevens (unofficially 12 carries for 43 yards) and Luke Zimmerman (7-33) the Blue devils methodically marched deep into Bomber territory on their opening drive, reaching the 24 yard line before a holding penalty and incomplete pass by QB Liam Barr stalled the drive at the 36. The coaching staff then deployed their soon to be ‘not so secret’ weapon, punter Elijah Kiesel and his coverage squad, to great effect. Gunner Matt Gulick was able to down the lofted punt at the AO 11 yard line, where Argenta began their first offensive possession. The bombers were able to pick up a couple of first downs, but the defense, led by Luke Zimmerman (unofficially 17 tackles, four for loss, including two QB sacks) eventually forced a punt, which rolled dead at the VGH 24.
This time, it was the Bomber defense who stood tall, forcing a punt from the VGH 44 yard line that was fielded at the AO ten yard line. Again, good coverage and a solid open field tackle by Isaac Mahoe resulted in Argenta beginning their second possession at their own 14. Again, the Devils defense, which never allowed an AO play from inside their half of the field for the entire game, stood strong, and a huge third down sack by Logan Nohren (four tackles, two TFL one QB sack) forced another punt which rolled dead at the VG 46. A facemask penalty allowed the Devils to move into Bomber territory at the 40, but Smith was thrown for a six-yard loss before missing his target high on third down, bringing on Kiesel and company to work their magic once again. This time Kiesel’s 55-yard punt was downed by Gulick at the one yard line, where the Bombers, forced to play conservatively, were able to bang out a single first down before Tyler Wilson (unofficially 12 tackles) and Keatan Junglas stood tall and forced another AO punt, which again rolled dead, this time at the Bomber 41, where VGH took over with 1:47 remaining in the half. Trying to take advantage of the favorable field position, the Blue Devils took three quick shots down field, with none of them being successful, bringing on the punting crew, once again. Excellent coverage by Mahoe again forced the Bombers into negative field position, with their final drive of the half starting at their own ten yard line with 1:23 left in the stanza. Once again, the defense stood tall, as Stevens was able to break up a potential big play on third down, forcing AO to punt once again. This time, Carson Howard saw an opening and returned the punt 13 yards to set VGH up for business at the opponents’ 28 yard line, with just seconds remaining. After missing on first down, Smith found Howard near the right corner of the endzone, and his leaping, tumbling grab made it 6-0, where the score remained after the p.a.t. was blocked.
The Bombers received the second half kickoff, but a holding penalty, along with stout defense, forced them to punt, once again. Howard’s fair catch saw VGH take over at their own 48 yard line, where they commenced a ten play drive, culminating in Jack Benschneider’s (11 carries for 44 yards, 1 TD) five-yard TD scamper on a nice cut back into the center of the field. Again, the extra point failed, and with 5:31 left in the third, the score stood at 12-0. At this point, the Devils defense began to assert it’s will, forcing a quick three and out. Howard’s four-yard return saw VGH retain possession at their own 39, and after mixing five straight runs between Stevens, Zimmerman and Benschneider, a play action pass to Howard worked to perfection, gaining 32 yards to the two yard line, where Tyler Wilson (one carry, one two-yd td) blew threw the demoralized home team defense to set the score at 18-0 with 55 seconds remaining.
The fourth quarter saw liberal substitutions on both sides of the ball for the Blue Devils, who nonetheless maintained their stellar defensive effort, unofficially holding the Bomber attack to 53 total yards from scrimmage.