Going into Friday’s game in Gillespie, the Nokomis High School football team had won their last three games by the combined score of 174 to 37, with most of their opponents’ points coming against the junior varsity.
The game on Oct. 8 would be much closer, a 35-12 Nokomis victory, but may have been just what the Redskins needed as they approach the final few weeks of the regular season.
“This game was huge. We needed a game, a hard fought game after the last several weeks where our starters didn’t play but a series in the second half,” Coach Paul Watson said after the game. “This was a game that we needed and we fought.”
While the game ended up being a good test for the Redskins, it didn’t look like that would be the case in the early going as Jake Johnson took the first play 54-yards to the end zone to give Nokomis a 7-0 lead just 19 seconds into the game.
The Redskins then recovered an onsides kick, but a personal foul penalty kept Nokomis from continuing that drive and they turned the ball over on downs at midfield. The penalty would be one of three personal fouls against the Redskins, something Coach Watson said needs to stop before Nokomis meets Pana in week eight.
“Their 12 points were mistakes that I thought we gave them, including a couple unsportsmanlike penalties that we cannot have next week,” said Watson, whose team also had a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty in the ensuing drive that led in part to a two-yard run by Zach Reiniesch.
Cooper Bertolino sacked Reiniesch on the two-point conversion attempt though and Nokomis maintained a one-point lead with 4:15 to play in the first.
Nokomis seemed ready to get those points back in their next drive, working the ball down to the Gillespie 25 on runs by Jake Watson, Jake Johnson, Connor Overby and Matthew Hill.
But another personal foul pushed the ball back to midfield and two plays later it was fourth and eight at the Gillespie 40.
Johnson, who led Nokomis in rushing with 147 yards on just nine attempts, got the call and bulldozed his way up the right side for an 11-yard gain and a first down. Seven plays later, Hill found paydirt from eight-yards out, making the score 14-6 after Ryan Quinn’s second successful extra point.
After some early success by the Miners on the ground, Nokomis made some defensive adjustments and kept them from getting much going on their next offensive series.
“Gillespie did a good job of running their offense, which is like what we run. You try to get them thinking one thing, and then when they do, you do something else,” Coach Watson said. “Our backers were taking a step or two back, but Coach Tarter took care of that.”
Nokomis also benefited from a pair of holding penalties, which made it fourth and 22 for the Miners, who punted the ball back with 6:28 left in the second quarter.
After a solid punt return by Hill to the Gillespie 35, Nokomis systematically marched down the field, needing eight plays to score touchdown number three, a three-yard run by Hill.
Up 21-6 after Quinn’s extra-point, Nokomis held Gillespie to just 10 yards on the next four plays as the clock ran out on the first half.
After the break, Gillespie would get into Nokomis territory with a 21-yard gain on a pass from Reiniesch to Collyn Oberkfell, but three plays later Nokomis senior Kaden Cook recovered a bad snap and ended Gillespie’s hopes for a good start to the third quarter.
Again, Nokomis marched down the field, going 59 yards on 10 plays, with Connor Overby scoring from one yard out to make it 28-6 with 4:23 left in the third.
Gillespie would get one score back after Keegan Bussmann busted one for a 64-yard gain, which eventually led to a Ronnie Monke four-yard touchdown reception from Reiniesch and looked to be ready for a comeback after recovering a Redskin fumble late in the third quarter, but the Nokomis defense stepped up, with defensive back Isaac Satterlee batting down two pass attempts on second and fourth down to force Gillepie to give Nokomis the ball back.
The Redskins put the dagger in seven plays later as Jake Watson made it 35-12 with 8:26 to go in the fourth. Gillespie would be held to three-and-out in their next series and Nokomis would chew up all but the final 59 seconds in their next drive before giving Gillespie the ball back for two more plays.
As the final horn sounded, the Redskins not only celebrated a hard-fought win, but also a victory that guaranteed their spot in the playoffs.
Once again, Nokomis would get it done on the ground, with 382 rushing yards on the night. In addition to Johnson’s 147, Jake Watson had 110 and Matthew Hill had 82, with Connor Overby adding 43 yards from the QB position. Johnson and Watson also led the team in tackles, posting seven each, while Craig Bertolino added six.
All the lessons learned on Friday will come in handy for Nokomis’ next game, a return of the rivalry with Pana.
“Pana’s a huge game for us. I don’t know how many Nokomis guys who played in the South Central Conference back in the day have come up to me,” Coach Watson said. “Pana was that big rivalry game and that place is going to be packed. There is that pressure there, of all the alumni that are going to be there watching.”
There is also the fact that the Panthers are quick, athletic and very good this year, having outscored their opponents 345 to 82. Only one team has been able to stay within three touchdowns of the Panthers, who are 7-0 on the year, the Vandals of Vandalia, who are 6-1 with a 46-26 loss to Pana in week one.
While Watson knows that this will be his team’s biggest test since the Central A&M game, he looks forward to the challenge and the opportunity that this year has given the Redskins in playing different teams.
“When you’re in that closed conference, you know who you’re playing each year and I’d love to get into that. But this year, with playing these different teams we haven’t seen in years, it’s almost like a playoff game,” said Watson, whose team has played three South Central Conference schools since Roxana dropped out of the SCC to join the Cahokia. “We want to be able to go and show that we can compete.”
October 8 at Gillespie
Nokomis (6-1) 7 14 7 7 35
Gillespie (1-6) 6 0 6 0 12
1st - 11:41 - (N) - Jake Johnson 54-yard TD run (Ryan Quinn kick)
1st - 4:51 - (G) - Zach Reiniesch 2-yard TD run (run failed)
2nd - 9:16 - (N) - Matthew Hill 8-yard TD run (Ryan Quinn kick)
2nd - 2:42 - (N) - Matthew Hill 3-yard TD run (Ryan Quinn kick)
3rd - 4:23 - (N) - Connor Overby 1-yard TD run (Ryan Quinn kick)
3rd - 2:26 - (G) - Ronnie Monke 4-yard TD reception from Zach Reiniesch (run failed)
4th - 8:26 - (N) - Jake Watson 7-yard TD run (Ryan Quinn kick)
Passing (0-4-0): Connor Overby 0-4-0.
Rushing (48-382): Jake Johnson 9-147, 1 TD; Jake Watson 14-110, 1 TD; Matthew Hill 13-82, 2 TD; Connor Overby 12-43, 1 TD.
Defense (Solo/Assists): Jake Watson 2/5; Jake Johnson 2/5; Craig Bertolino 1/5; Nolan Ernst 4/1; Connor Overby 3/2; Matthew Hill 3/2; Wyatt Dooley 2/2; Isaac Satterlee 0/3; Cooper Bertolino 1/2; Tanner Woolard 0/2; Brenton Lyons 0/1; Kaleb Kuhn 1/0; Jaxson Batty 0/1; Zaylon Sisk 1/0, Kaden Cook 1 fumble recovery; Ryan Quinn 1 fumble recovery.