By Tony Hooker
The Blue Devils traveled to Niantic, hoping to weather the Storm and spoil the Sangamon Valley’s homecoming celebration on October 1.
Consider their mission accomplished as Villa Grove overcame several sloppy moments to claim a 37-14 win over the host school.
Villa Grove’s very own Swiss army knife, Luke Zimmerman, got things started by bursting up the middle of the line after Zach Wells and Carson Block cleared the way, cutting around a Deandre’ Rinehart pancake block of the Storm outside backer and racing 71 yards for the score on the second play from scrimmage. Lining up for the extra point, the Blue Devils noticed a crack in the defensive alignment and holder Layne Rund held onto the ball and scampered around the right end, making it 8-0 with 11:03 left in the first quarter.
After Mason Carter’s fine open field tackle on the ensuing kickoff, things got a little weird as five of the next seven snaps from center were blown dead due to offsides penalties on VG or procedure penalties being whistled on SVHS. The two teams then swapped possessions until the end of the quarter, with VG clinging to an 8-0 lead as the Storm used a pass interference penalty and a face mask call against the Devils to move to the VG 15. From there, linebacker and homecoming king Elijah Kiesel (five tackles, two TFL, one sack) proved that he was more than just a pretty face, stopping a first down run for no gain. Zimmerman, who finished with ten tackles, including a QB sack, then sniffed out a screen pass and threw the receiver to the ground for a loss of one. An incomplete pass and a QB sack by Kiesel forced a fourth and 16 for the Storm, and cornerback Brady Clodfelder (eight tackles) alertly knocked the ball to the ground to regain possession for VGHS.
VG quickly went to work, as Zimmerman (13 carries for 165 yards and two TD’s) ripped off 11 and 12 yard runs on consecutive plays. A mishandled exchange was jumped on by Parker Stevens (nine carries for 19 yards) to maintain possession at the VG 43, and this time QB Liam Barr found Layne Rund behind the Storm defense for a 57-yard TD connection. After Daelin Price’s extra point was true, the score stood at 15-0 with 7:07 left in the half. On the Storm’s next possession, Price (two solo tackles, three assists, one QB sack, one PBU) was able to get a big paw up and knock a Storm pass attempt down. The two teams then exchanged punts, and SVHS started their final drive of the half at their own 33. Parker Stevens (three solos one assist) threw the Storm running back for a three-yard loss on first down, and Liam Barr (one solo, one assist, two INT’s) then picked off a SVHS pass at his own 46 and returned it to the Storm 36 to give VG a chance to pad their lead before half time, and that’s exactly what they did, using five straight direct snaps to Zimmerman to cover the distance, with the final play, a one-yard TD plunge, coming with 32 seconds left in the half. Price tacked on the extra point and the VG lead stood at 22-0. Barr then picked off another pass, this time at his 28, and returned it to the 44, where three passing attempts fell incomplete to end the half at 22-0.
The Storm refused to abate, however, as they used just six plays to cover 65 yards, with the big blow being a 51-yard td bomb from Travis Hemphill to Mason Hardy, and after Hemphill’s two-point conversion keeper was good, the VG lead stood at 22-8 with 8:37 left in the third quarter and a nervous murmur began amongst the VG faithful.
Gunner Cline, VG’s whirling dervish of a return man, had other ideas however, as he fielded the ensuing kickoff at his own 30 and dipped, ducked, dived and dodged his way to a 70-yard return touchdown. Price’s extra point attempt was true, and the VG lead stood at 29-8 with 8:24 left.
This time, the defense held firm forcing a punt by SVHS, which rolled out dead at the Storm 46. This time, VG elected to keep the ball on the ground, with Barr (3-9 for 58 yards and one td passing, one td rushing) calling his own number a couple of times in addition to handing off to running counter plays with Stevens and Zimmerman. Finally, on the ninth play of a drive that ate up four minutes and four seconds of play clock, Barr was able to go over the left side from six yards out for the score. This time, the Storm rallied to block Price’s extra point attempt, and the score stood at 35-8 with 2:21 remaining in the third.
Sangamon Valley refused to quit, however, forcing a Blue Devil punt. A facemask penalty on the VG tackler allowed the Storm to gather at the VG 46, and they took advantage, going the distance in five plays. Their two-point attempt failed, leaving the score at 35-14 with 8:57 left in the contest. Sangamon Valley then executed a picture perfect onside kick, and once again things began to get a bit nervous on the VG side, a feeling that mounted as SVHS completed a 20-yard pass on fourth and 12 to keep the drive alive and move into Blue Devil territory. On the next play, however, Linebacker Tyler Wilson shut down any thoughts of a comeback by out dueling the Storm receiver on a pass over the middle, coming up with the interception and a nice return to give VG possession. A series of miscues forced VG to punt, and Elijah Kiesel (four punts for 130 yards) then angled a nice boot which rolled out of bounds at the SV 12. A pair of holding penalties then moved the Storm back to the three, and Zimmerman was able to run down the opposing QB in the end zone for a safety, setting the final margin at 37-14. The Blue Devils return to action on October 8 at 7:00 p.m. for senior night, their final regular season home contest of the year, versus Tri-County.