When football was pushed back in the fall of 2020, it left an empty space in the hearts of many that wasn’t filled until this spring when players were finally given a chance to take the field.
With that hole filled, the Nokomis Redskins focused on another empty spot, located just below the scoreboard of their home field.
“We had one empty spot on the left side of the fence,” Nokomis Head Coach Paul Watson said after the Redskins’ game at Red Bud on Friday, April 23. “We don’t have that empty spot any more.”
Watson’s words set off a roar of celebration from his players, one of many after the final horn sounded on Nokomis’ 54-0 win over the Musketeers. The spot on the fence is reserved for conference championship signs and will soon be filled with one for the small school division of the Cahokia Conference after the win improved Nokomis’ record to 6-0 and secured them the title.
“I had a feeling that we were going to win, but to come out and dominate in all aspects of the game, I would have never guessed that,” Watson said regarding the game with Red Bud, who was 4-1 going into the game with their only loss against a very good Columbia squad.
From the outset, the Redskins were a different kind of mean on Friday. They forced the Musketeers to punt after going three-and-out and had decent field position on their first offensive series, starting on their own 49.
Landon Engelman went around the corner for a 10-yard gain on the first offensive play, but a holding call pushed Nokomis back ten yards to their 39. All that did was boost Engelman’s stat totals as the junior running back raced around the edge on the next play for a 61-yard touchdown run.
The defense continued to step up in the second series, holding Red Bud to zero yards on back-to-back plays on third and one and fourth and one as they got the ball back on their own 40 yard line.
From where they went back to work, feeding the Musketeers a steady diet of rushes from Matthew Hill, Jake Watson, Jake Johnson and Engelman, with Connor Overby keeping the defense honest with a pinpoint accurate passing game.
Nokomis put together an 11-play, 60-yard drive highlighted by a 22-yard reception by Engelman, who also scored his second touchdown of the game on an eight yard sprint.
With the offense clicking, the defense worked to break the Musketeer spirit. Two plays after the kickoff, Hill drug Red Bud quarterback Easton Lucht to the ground for a sack and an 11-yard loss, forcing another punt.
Nokomis would drive again in their next series, but for the only time in the first half, Red Bud would answer, stopping the Skins on fourth and goal to get the ball back early in the second quarter.
The Musketeers would stall on offense again, but a 17-yard run on a punt fake by Lucht seemed to give them new life as they approached midfield.
That momentum was fleeting though as Connor Overby jumped a passing route and picked off Lucht with 5:23 to play in the first half. Five plays later, Jake Watson bulldozed his way in from 14 yards out to make the score 20-0 in Nokomis favor.
The Redskins would get the ball back once more after another Red Bud punt, but opted not to push for another score before the half ended less than a minute later.
Nokomis picked up where they left off in the second quarter, with more running plays in a march to the end zone. Jake Johnson would take the ball in from 13 yards out, the start of what would be the half of a lifetime for the junior running back.
Less than two minutes after his first score of the game, Johnson found the end zone again as Matt Hill stripped Lucht of the ball and Johnson scooped and scored from 44 yards out to make it 34-0.
Nokomis wasn’t done in the third quarter though, getting a third touchdown with 18 seconds left on a four-yard plunge by Jake Watson to up the lead to 41-0 and start the running clock.
The Redskins continued to put pressure on Lucht, who was dragged down by Hill and Craig Bertolino on fourth and seven for a 14-yard loss, which gave Nokomis the ball on the Red Bud 40.
Two plays later, Johnson picked up score number three on the night on a 41-yard run up the sideline to make it 47-0.
Red Bud would allow senior running back Frank Ford to try his hand at the passing game in the final few minutes. After an incomplete pass on his first attempt, Ford was picked off by Johnson on pass number two, with touchdown number four on the night coming shortly after.
The 50-yard interception return capped off an amazing night for Johnson and for the Skins, who only had to kick off and stop one more running play before the clock ran out.
“You guys played smart and did just what we said to do, beat them on the scoreboard,” Watson told his team, who had suffered from a few personal foul penalties in their previous win over Dupo.
The game was just a piece of the puzzle that was the 2021 spring season. The offense scored 236 points. The defense allowed just 34, more than half of which came against the junior varsity once the games were in hand. But neither side was the sole reason why Nokomis won this year. The team as a whole was better than the sum of its parts, no matter how strong those parts were.
While the roster is dominated by juniors and underclassmen, the team will lose four seniors, Dylan Hayes, Braeston Brumet, Cameron Engelhart and Dallas Sneddon. Watson made sure that the other players knew that those eight sets of eyes would be on them when they take the field again in just a few short months for the fall 2021 season.
“They led us all year, they led us to 6-0. But here’s the thing, learn from them,” Watson warned. “Keep working in the offseason. Keep getting in the weight room. They’re going to be watching and cheering you on, but if you let them down, I guarantee they’re going to let you know one way or another.”
Still, Nokomis returns nine starters on both sides of the ball, meaning that as special as this year was, next year can be even more of the same.
“We’re going to miss those guys tremendously, but we keep saying, ‘Next guy up.’ We have some guys who really benefitted from having the season this spring, so it’s not going to be such a big step for them this fall,” Watson said.
Next year, Nokomis will go back down to 1A, with the end of the Ramsey football co-op. Watson was an assistant when made the playoffs four straight years in the early 2010s under Gabe Cesaretti, when they were bumped up to Class 3A and 2A.
“We had some teams with Austin Chausse and those guys that went into the playoffs in 2A and 3A, but if we would have went in 1A, we would have made a heck of a run,” Watson said, comparing this year’s team fondly to those squads. “Our schedule is tough, we have some South Central Conference teams, plus Central A&M, but with those tough games, it will get us ready for the 1A playoffs. It’s going to be a great year.”
April 23 at Red Bud
Nokomis (6-0) 14 6 21 13 54
Red Bud (4-2) 0 0 0 0 0
1st - 9:59 - Nokomis - Landon Engelman 61-yard run (run failed)
1st - 2:52 - Nokomis - Landon Engelman 8-yard run (Landon Engelman run)
2nd - 3:09 - Nokomis - Jake Watson 14-yard run (run failed)
3rd - 5:51 - Nokomis - Jake Johnson 13-yard run (Landon Engelman run)
3rd - 4:04 - Nokomis - Jake Johnson 44-yard fumble return (kick failed)
3rd - 0:18 - Nokomis - Jake Watson 4-yard run (Landon Engelman kick)
4th - 5:35 - Nokomis - Jake Johnson 41-yard run (run failed)
4th - 2:23 - Nokomis - Jake Johnson 50-yard interception return (Landon Engelman kick)
Passing (2-2-36): Connor Overby 2-2-36.
Rushing (41-354): Landon Engelman 10-115, Jake Johnson 8-92, Jake Watson 10-58, Connor Overby 2-47, Matt Hill 11-42.
Receiving (2-36): Landon Engelman 1-22, Isaac Satterlee 1-14.
Defense (solo/assists): Craig Bertolino 4/5, .5 sacks; Matt Hill 6/2, 1.5 sacks; Braeston Brummet 2/4, 1 sack; Cooper Bertolino 3/3; Jake Johnson 3/1, 1 INT, 1 fumble recovery, 2 TD; Tanner Woolard 1/3; Isaac Satterlee 2/2; Dylan Hayes 3/3; Mason Morris 0/3; Connor Overby 0/1, 1 INT; Landon Engelman 1/0; Jake Watson 0/1; Skylar Pavolka 1/0; Zaylon Sisk 0/1.