By Tony Hooker
We know Carson Howard didn’t paint the lines on the field before Villa Grove Heritage’s 42-18 win over Sangamon Valley on Friday, April 9. The Orwick family and friends hold down that task.
There wasn’t much else that Howard didn’t do, however, as he finished with seven catches for 117 yards and four touchdowns. Howard also returned two kickoffs for 48 yards and intercepted a pass that he returned 37 yards.
Liam Barr also stood out, going 8-11 passing for 133 yards and the four touchdowns. Barr made his presence felt defensively, numbering three tackles for loss among his four stops.
The Blue Devils kicked off and forced a three and out for the Storm, with Jack Benschneider making two of his five tackles to thwart the drive.
After their punt rolled dead at the 31-yard line, the Blue Devils put together a ground and pound drive that had to have their coach, Heath Wilson, a former running back, gleaming with pride. Mixing Benschneider dives with Parker Stevens counters, the Devils used eight straight runs to move to the SV 19, before Barr found Howard for the TD strike. Dealin Price, who would convert 6-6 extra point tries, booted it through the uprights, and with 5:44 remaining in the first quarter, the Devils held a 7-0 lead.
The Storm would answer however, putting together a 56-yard drive of their own to pull within 7-6 at the 1:31 mark of the first.
Disaster then struck on the opening play of the next VGH drive, with a mishandled exchange on an end around resulting in a fumble that SV pounced on at the Villa Grove Heritage 36. It took Sangamon Valley just four plays to capitalize, and with 11:54 to go in the second quarter, the Devils faced a 12-7 deficit.
On the ensuing kickoff, Howard squelched any sort of momentum the Storm may have been brewing by returning it 41 yards to the SV 40-yard line, and from there, Luke Zimmerman took over, bursting through for a 19-yard TD scamper, and once again Price’s kick was true, making the score 14-12 with 9:32 remaining in the first half. Zimmerman would finish the contest with 124 yards on 15 carries.
Freshman Brady Clodfelder then made short work of the next Storm drive by picking off an errant throw to regain possession at the VGH 40, from where the Devils were able to move the SV 23 before coming up just short on a fourth down attempt to give possession back to the Storm. Again, the Storm couldn’t muster up a drizzle of offense, and Dealin Price fell on a blocked punt to set VGH up at the SV 29. Facing four and three from the Storm 22, Barr went for it all and found pay dirt, hitting Howard for the score. After the point after the Devils lead stood at 21-12 with 1:04 seconds left in the half. Sangamon Valley wasted no time in erasing the Rush Album score from the board, however, as they returned the ensuing kickoff 80 yards for the TD. Again, their conversion try failed, and with 53.1 seconds remaining in the half, the score stood at 21-18.
An errant kick off out of bounds put the Blue Devils back in business at their own 41. After an incomplete pass and a seven-yard Zimmerman scamper, Barr was able to hit Clodfelder with a clutch 16-yard completion on three down to the SV 26. After misfiring on first down, Barr found Howard at the five, and the senior drug multiple defenders into the endzone from there to complete the 26-yard scoring play. Again, Price converted the PAT, and with just four seconds remaining in the first half, the Devils led 28-18.
The second half opened with VGH starting the opening drive of the third quarter at their own 14, and from there, they went to the ground, with Stevens (ten carries for 35 yards) and Zimmerman taking turns gashing the demoralized Sangamon Valley defense on ten play, 84-yard drive, culminating in Zimmerman’s two-yard td plunge. After the PAT, the Blue Devils lead reached 35-18 at the 8:24 mark of the third.
From there, the game was largely anticlimactic, as the swarming VGH D limited Sangamon Valley to just one first down in the third quarter. Unfortunately, the Devils wasted Howard’s interception and nice return by mishandling the first down snap and ceding possession to Sangamon Valley, but that would prove to be the last lightning the Storm could produce.
Villa Grove Heritage, however, had one more burst of fireworks left in them, as Barr found his favorite target, Howard, for a 23-yard scoring strike on the first play of the fourth quarter to set the final score at 42-18.
From that point, Price (one solo, six assists) and the rest of the Devils D held firm as the VGH coaches played most of the final quarter with their JV squad. Freshman Gunner Cline showed a glimpse of what could be a very bright VGH football future by jitterbugging his way to 33 yards on three carries, and freshman QB Layne Rund also showed some spark and creativity in his first extensive varsity action. The Blue Devils travel to Oakland on Friday April 18 to face the Tri-County Titans in a 7:00 p.m. contest before returning to the friendly confines of Russ Ghere field on the April 25 to face Arcola in the Blue Devils’ Homecoming contest, their last game of the season.