By Lenny Sementi
Eastern Illinois University and O’brien Stadium played host this Saturday to the Super Bowl of both age divisions of Tuscola’s Flag Football League culminating its fourth season. It was a historical season boasting a record 115 athletes forming eleven teams all of which had hopes of reaching the pinnacle, five in the 5-8 year old division and six in the 9-14 year old age groups, but only four found their way to EIU.
The Bears (Sydney Kingman, Ryann Mann, Braxton Cain, Callen Romine, Carter Krauss, Lilliana Kingman, Damien Martin, Madelynn Eglseder, Wyatt Harschberger, Abel Lat) coached by Tynin Cain ran the table in the junior division regular season earning a by to the championship game while coach Matt Lake’s Buccaneers (Sedric Bailey, Grady Chovanec, Lane Burris, Jett Williams, Eli Lake, Reece Vandeventer, John Brewer, Cooper Leith, Hunter Rahn, Rylyn Burris) upended the Giants coached by Paul Shipley in the semi-finals to earn their spot.
Reece Vandeventer made a couple of big stops on defense for the Buc’s against Bear’s speedster Abel Lat in a defensive battle. Vandeventer scored the only points in the game late in the first half securing the 6-0 win and the championship. “The Bears had beaten the Bucs just a week earlier 21-18,” state league originator Jason Rahn. “So to see such a flip in the game from an offensive battle to a defensive one, was impressive. The kids all played so well.”
Ravens coach Noah Vincent’s squad (Jordana Moore, Andrew Mann, Adrian Lockwood, Isaiah Bertrand, Kristian Beadles, Myles McKinnie, Brix Smith, Logan Fowler, Joey Latch, Kady Cain, Emily Veach) upset U of I football players Kendal Smith and Jamal Woods unbeaten Seahawks in the semi’s to find their way to the title tilt in the senior playoffs. Raiders coached by EIU football player Matt Judd and assistant coach Bradley Mast’s (Cohen Jones, Tanner Block, Hunter Smith, Ava Mullins, Sean Conner, Kellen Fiscus, Ledger Clark, Gavin Storm, Kale Wilcox, Amaryiah Banda, Zane McFraland) occupied the other sideline on his home field beating Bryce Reifsteck’s Colts in the other half of the final four.
“Coach Smith and Woods carried on the tradition of Illini players coaching our teams. We’ve had Reggie Corbin who is now in the CFL, Justice Williams, Dele Harding and Delshawn Phillips who is on the Jets roster in the past. And coach Judd is hopefully the first of many from EIU,” commented Rahn.
Judd’s squad recovered from a slow start scoring going into the half down fourteen 20-6 to the Ravens to win a thriller 34-28. The Raiders stormed back in the second half knotting it at 28 and capped off the comeback with a Zane McFarland pick six for the win at the final horn. Rahn was ecstatic “The seniors game was a heart stopper. I thought for sure with having the ball and time coming off the clock the Ravens would play for overtime. I was shocked to see the ball go into the air. Zane made an incredible interception. I mean how much more excitement can you ask for. A week earlier the Ravens ended the Seahawks season on the final play. I’m so proud of both teams, the guys left it all on the field.”
Leader of the Warriors head football coach Andy Romine who’s son has been part of two seasons was the offensive coordinator for the Bears in the 5-8 year old division. Tuscola’s head coach stated, “This season was awesome, every team had great kids, parents and coaches. Jason and Katie (Parker) have donated a great deal of time to make this happen and it shows and we are all extremely grateful.”
Parker is Co-Owner of the League. She handles all the day to day league operations ie. Paperwork. Making sure I stay on task and organized. She helps load, unload, set up, tear down and is the kid’s biggest cheerleader. “Katie is my rock in all of this,” stated Rahn. “As far as Saturday goes. When I started this venture four years ago I wanted to give all kids the opportunity to stay active and play the game of football. And being able to have them play on a College field and to dream big is something we have been working on for quite awhile.”
The flag league is also starting to pay dividends at the high school level. With no JV last year due to the pandemic it gave a lot of players the opportunity to keep playing the game. And it also gives those that maybe too small or not quite ready to play JFL an avenue to hone their skills prior to high school and this season two freshmen that rose through the ranks of the Flag league have done just that. Drew and Thomas Bennett have opted to don the black and gold this fall.