United wins in overtime
MONMOUTH -- As Flanagan-Cornell /Woodland running back Robert Gilliam sprinted toward him, United's Logan Hickerson had only one thought.
"Get him down," the 150-pound senior said, and before he reached the end zone, preferably.
That's exactly what happened, as Hickerson stuffed Gilliam about five feet short of the goal line on the Falcons' go-for-the-win two-point conversion attempt in overtime, preserving a 21-20 victory for the ninth-ranked Red Storm in the first round of the IHSA Class 1A playoffs.
"As soon I saw it wasn't a touchdown, I just started screaming," said Hickerson, who finished with seven tackles.
His game-saving tackle was set up by United senior running back Adam Olin's one-yard score and kicker Eric Watson's converted extra point earlier in overtime. Watson's kick was actually deflected but the ball snuck through the uprights.
"I was going to do anything I possibly could to get in there," said Olin, the area's leading rusher with 1,443 yards and 23 touchdowns.
The Red Storm (9-1) and their standout runner started the game strong, with Olin piling up 94 yards and two touchdowns on his first 11 carries. The team carried a 14-6 lead deep into the second quarter.
They appeared to maybe have the game under wraps when quarterback Zach Steele took a fake punt 42 yards for touchdown with 6:30 left in the second quarter.
Or did he?
Steele's scamper was nullified because of an inadvertent whistle by an official few people heard. Making matters worse, the yardage United was given at the time of the whistle was about two yards shy of a first down. So instead of the touchdown or, at the least, a first down, the Red Storm was forced to punt the ball.
After the mess was sorted by the five-man Peoria-based officiating crew, Red Storm coach Tim Engebretson hollered to his team, "You can all pout about this or you can play football."
"That was a huge momentum swing and momentum is a big thing," Olin said. "Luckily, we came through."
After the United punt, the Falcons (6-4) rumbled 71 yards down the field for a touchdown, with 200-pound grinder Drew Duffy churning 57 yards for the score with 3:01 left before halftime. The Falcons converted a two-point conversion to knot the game at 14 heading into half.
"You know what, people make mistakes and that ref made a mistake. I made probably 25 during the game," Engebretson said. "I hope I'd be saying this even if we lost. You just got to respond to that."
In the second half, yards and even feet were tough to come by for both teams.
United tried to play the field-position game and ended up with two scoring opportunities deep in Flanagan-Cornell /Woodland territory but the offense was always eventually stuffed as the Falcons loaded the box with eight, nine and sometimes 10 players.
The Red Storm appeared to be on the cusp of knocking through a late - and perhaps game-winning - 25-yard field goal with 1:48 left but a somewhat high snap was mishandled and the Falcons survived to force overtime.
"It was a great ball game. That's what the playoffs are all about," F-C/W coach Ted O'Boyle said.
With ball placed at the opponents' 10-yard-line, Olin started overtime with a punishing seven-yard run where he drove a gang of tacklers back for an extra three yards. A play later, Duffy was whistled for facemasking Olin, and United runner Aaron McDonald then slashed up to the F-C/W one-yard-line to set up Olin's score.
Olin led the Red Storm with 136 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries. McDonald had 33 rushing yards also for United.
Duffy finished with a game-high 140 rushing yards for the Falcons. Neither team completed a pass.
"The nice thing about Adam is there's not much style and it's all substance," Engebretson said. "He does whatever you ask him to do and that's all you can ask for as a coach."
Gilliam scored three plays later for the Falcons on a five-yard TD run, and O'Boyle decided to go for the road win by opting for the two-point conversion.
"It's an easy decision. I'd do it 10 out of 10 times," O'Boyle said. "It's the right decision. We just didn't get it done."
United will play another team from the Heart of Illinois conference next week when the Red Storm travels to play Heyworth (7-3), a 20-13 winner over favored Princeville on Friday night. "That's the biggest 1A team I've seen in my life," Engebretson said of Heyworth. "They are huge."