Illini West rolls over Mercer County

Robert Blackford/Editor
The Times Record

The Illini West Chargers rolled over the Mercer County Golden Eagles Friday night, 49-14.

“Defensively we are allowed only so many mistakes,” said Nat Zunkel. I think our plan was all right tonight. We missed opportunities all evening.” The speed of the game and tackling gave the Golden Eagles problems all evening.

“We were in the right position all night and didn’t make the plays,” said Zunkel.

“The positives we can take from tonight is that we could have scored 28 points against the defending 3A state champions. Now you know what you need to do. We have to concentrate and finish drives. This is not a total loss. This could define your season in a positive way. It feels bad to lose. We missed an opportunity tonight,” said Zunkel.

“If we win tonight, we are still not satisfied. They are a great team. We play to get better. We didn’t have their speed. We were in the right position we just didn’t finish. We’ve had one drive over six plays all season. We need to be sustaining our drives,” said Zunkel.

Zunkel added, “We were a play away in the first half from being tied. These kids are bouncing back already. That’s what I love about our kids, they are so positive. This loss allows us to fix the things we need to fix.”

Mercer County got off on the right foot and took the ball down the field to the Chargers 15-yard line to open the game. The Golden Eagles drive stalled there though and Luke Boucher’s field goal attempt was wide right.

Illini West got on the scoreboard two plays later as Drake Schmudlach took the ball 78 yards for the score with 6:51 remaining in the quarter.

Illini West caught a brake early in the second quarter as Cody Carson returned a punt 35 yards for the touchdown. Michael Lafferty’s conversion run gave the Chargers a 14-0 lead at the 9:24 mark in the second quarter.

Mercer County answered with a 13-play 78-yard drive culminating in a 12-yard touchdown pass from Brett Anderson to Tanner Benson to cut the Charger lead to 14-7 with 2:22 remaining in the half.

It could have been a momentum changer but the Charger offense behind Lafferty scored on a five-play drive. Schmudlach’s 20-yard touchdown run with 1:10 remaining in the second quarter gave the Chargers a 21-7 lead at halftime.

The Golden Eagles came out flat in the second half and the Chargers took advantage of it. Runs of 23 and 22 yards by Kyle Huss and a 21-yard run by Ser Whitaker set up Huss’ five-yard touchdown run at the 10:16 mark. The score gave the Chargers a 28-7 lead.

“We were flat after halftime,” said Zunkel.

Mercer County’s next drive was 14 plays including 10 pass attempts by Anderson but it ended when Anderson was sacked for a four-yard loss by Travis Wilson.

The Chargers again drove the field behind the running of Whitaker, Huss and Michael Lafferty. Whitaker put the Chargers up 35-7 with 29.2 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

Mercer County wasn’t finished yet. Anderson completed passes to Mason Bush and Ethan Ball of 7 and 12 yards. The big blow came on Anderson’s 30-yard pass to Benson. Ethan Ball scored on the one-yard drive to cut the Charger lead to 35-14.

It was Schmudlach’s turn to break a big run this time. He rambled 73 yards for the score at the 10:09 mark to seal the Charger victory.

Illini West tacked on another score at the 5:22 mark as Huss scored from 16 yards out.

“I thought the big story tonight was our defense,” said Illini West head coach Jim Unruh. “We got some big plays on offense but a big part of the story was our defense. They (Mercer County) completed a lot of passes but we reduced our yards after the catch. We have come a long way. The key to a good team is not where you begin it’s where you finish.”

Anderson completed 28 of his 47 pass attempts for 226 yards and one touchdown.

Michael McClellan led the Mercer County ground game with 22 yards on seven attempts.

The Illini West offense rushed for 457 yards on 43 attempts with five touchdowns.

Schmudlach led Illini West with 216 yards on nine attempts. Huss added 116 yards on 13 attempts.