With 12 state trophies between them, it was not a normal first-round IHSA playoff game between Stillman Valley and Bloomington Central Catholic on Nov. 2.
With the score tied 8-8 in the second half, the anticipated script between the two 3A heavyweights seemed to be playing out as expected.
Then, one play turned the game completely around in a 29-8 Cardinal win. With BCC’s defense stacking the line against the run, astute play calling by SV caught them off guard.
A wide-open Seth VanBriesen caught a pass from Connor McNames and raced 50 yards to the 4-yard line. One play later, Zac Hare bulled over for the touchdown and a 15-8 lead.
“That pass play was sitting there. It was a momentum switcher,” SV coach Mike Lalor said.
“Our coverage manned up on that guy and lost him,” BCC interim coach Mike Moews said.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, the Cardinals used a bit of luck and hustle to make it a 22-8 game. Logan Alberts got loose for a 28-yard run, but fumbled the ball away.
Tristan Elliott, who was trailing Alberts, beat the Saints to the ball and alertly picked it up and ran 20 yards for a score.
“That was a heads up effort by Tristan. We out-worked them on that play,” Lalor said.
On the ensuing possession, it was Alberts and Elliott working in tandem again to sack the Saints’ quarterback on fourth down. Taking over on downs, Hare made BCC pay for having 10 men in the box by rambling for a 31-yard touchdown and 29-8 lead.
“It was fourth-and-short, but we didn’t want to give the ball back to them,” Lalor said. “Even though they focused on Zac a lot, and other guys were able to make plays for us too.”
As the game wore on, SV’s power game and execution began to wear down the visitors.
“They’re physical and can grind it out,” Moews said.
The 9-1 Cardinals move on to play 8-2 Erie-Prophetstown on Saturday in what may end up be a less physical game.
“The biggest thing today was that we blocked and tackled well and didn’t make mistakes,” Lalor said. Actually, SV had one crucial mistake on a first-quarter 21-play drive, as Hare fumbled on the 9-yard line.
The Saints drove to SV’s 23-yard line after that, but had four incompletions and could not muster any points.
The only scoring in the first half touchdown was a 1-yard run by McNames.