The goal was simple for both Nokomis and Litchfield going into Friday’s football game, the first meeting between the two Montgomery County schools since 1984. That goal was improvement.
For the Redskins, the improvement came in their record, which they accomplished successfully with a 62-20 victory over the Panthers. The win moved them one game closer to six wins, the magic number for a guaranteed spot in the IHSA playoffs
For Litchfield, the improvement came in smaller doses, but could mean a lot more in the long run as Coach Dan Carlson works to rebuild a program that has had more than its fair share of hard times. Ultimately, Litchfield was successful too, with flashes of brilliance from a young roster that was overmatched by an experienced and determined Nokomis squad.
Those flashes were sparklers to Nokomis’ shock and awe attack in the first half though as the Redskins racked up at 54-8 lead, with 20 points coming in the first four minutes on touchdowns by Matt Hill, Connor Overby and Jake Johnson.
All three scores came on the second play of the drive for Nokomis, with Hill’s TD set up by his own 46-yard run, Overby’s quarterback sneak prefaced by a 23-yard run by Johnson, and Johnson’s score coming right after a 32-yard strike from Overby to senior tight end Cooper Bertolino.
Defensively, Nokomis was just as stout in that time span, holding Litchfield to two three-and-outs, with Hill recovering a fumble on another drive.
One of the flashes for Litchfield came in the next Nokomis drive though, as Martavious Jones snagged a fumble to keep Nokomis from marching into the end zone.
Temporarily, at least, as the Panthers gave the ball back on a fumble recovered by Kolin Reynolds two plays later and Jake Watson scored on a 20-yard rumble to make it 28-0 with 4:03 left in the first.
Litchfield would find some success on the ground in their next series, with A.J. Sypherd picking up 10 yards on three runs to give the Panthers their first first down of the game.
Unfortunately, the drive ended three plays and a punt later and Nokomis scored on a 40-yard run by Johnson 41 seconds into the second quarter to make it 36-0.
Another flash occurred in Litchfield’s next series, when quarterback Tate Dobrinich found Carson Saathoff for a 17-yard gain. That put Litchfield in Nokomis territory for the first time in the game and the Panthers made it pay off as Keenan Powell out ran the coverage and snagged a Dobrinich pass for a 39-yard touchdown. With the two-point conversion, the score now stood at 36-8 in Nokomis’ favor.
The score may have fell in the realm of the Blazing Saddles “Don’t shoot him, you’ll just make him mad,” adage as Nokomis gave up just 10 yards of offense after Powell’s touchdown, with a fumble recovery by Tanner Woolard thrown in for good measure after Cooper Bertolino stripped Dobrinich on Litchfield’s first drive after the score.
Nokomis scored on both sides of Woolard’s recovery, with Jake Watson running one in from three yards before the turnover, and Jake Johnson scoring from 10 yards out after it to make it 49-8.
Nokomis made it 56-8 with 4:33 to play in the half on a seven-yard run by Watson and nearly scored again had it not been for a leaping goal line interception by Powell, another flash for the Panthers.
Litchfield would run two more plays as the clock round out on the first half, with the score still 56-8 at the break.
With a running clock in the second half, Nokomis chewed up time with 11 straight runs, seven of which went for first downs, ending with a one-yard run by Matt Hill to make it 62-8.
With the JV in for Nokomis, Litchfield had some success on the ground with Sypherd, who would run for 49 yards on nine carries in the game, and through the air, as Dobrinich found Saathoff for a 19-yard touchdown that made it 62-14.
The Redskin offense, who were without JV quarterback Brody Steele due to an ACL injury, ran four plays before giving the ball back to Litchfield, who got a 22-yard run from Drew Hartzel, which set up Sypherd’s first score from five yards out.
That was the final flash for the Panthers, who watched as Nokomis ate the final few seconds off the clock until the final horn.
For Nokomis, the win was decisive and reinforced that the season continues on despite the loss of all-state runningback Landon Engelman, who was on the sideline after he broke his arm in last week’s win over East Alton-Wood River.
“At halftime (against EAWR), we didn’t really have to say much. The seniors stepped up and spoke their piece and said the rest of the season is for Landon,” Coach Paul Watson said of his team’s reaction to Engelman’s injury. “That’s our captain. That’s our guy out there that got hurt. We want to continue to win and get in the playoffs and give him another chance to play.”
The chance for the Redskins to make the playoffs would have taken a hit if Nokomis wouldn’t have been able to find a replacement for Madison on the schedule, as no game means no playoff points. Fortunately, Athletic Director Kevin Reedy found a replacement 120 miles away in Albion.
“It’s huge. Mr. Reedy has been working his tail off to find somebody and he did a tremendous job,” said Coach Watson, whose team plays Edwards County in Albion at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 25. “We talked to Edwards County at the beginning of the season because we knew that Vienna-Goreville had roster issues and might not be able to finish the season. He contacted them at the beginning of the year and said if it was open, they’d like to play. If we have no game, we don’t get any playoff points. Hopefully we can get a win Saturday, which gets us closer to that six-win mark which gets us in automatically.”
While playoffs don’t appear to be in the cards for 0-4 Litchfield, hopefully the flashes shown on Friday against Nokomis can carry over to their game against Greenville on Friday, Sept. 24, and beyond the 2021 season.
September 17 at Nokomis
Litchfield (0-4) 0 8 0 12 20
Nokomis (3-1) 28 26 8 0 62
1st - 10:45 - (N) - Matt Hill 3-yard TD run (Ryan Quinn kick)
1st - 9:58 - (N) - Connor Overby 1-yard TD run (Ryan Quinn kick)
1st - 8:01 - (N) - Jake Johnson 15-yard TD run (kick failed)
1st - 4:03 - (N) - Jake Watson 20-yard TD run (Connor Overby 2-pt. pass to Jake Johnson)
2nd - 11:19 - (N) - Jake Johnson 40-yard TD run (kick failed)
2nd - 9:43 - (L) - Keenan Powell 39-yard TD reception from Tate Dobrinich (Tate Dobrinich 2-pt. pass to Carson Saathoff)
2nd - 8:43 - (N) - Jake Watson 3-yard TD run (Ryan Quinn kick)
2nd - 7:44 - (N) - Jake Johnson 10-yard TD run (kick failed)
2nd - 4:33 - (N) - Jake Watson 7-yard TD (Ryan Quinn kick)
3rd - 4:11 - (N) - Matt Hill 1-yard TD run (pass failed)
4th - 10:01 - (L) - Carson Saathoff 19-yard TD reception from Tate Dobrinich (run failed)
4th - 3:46 - (L) - A.J. Sypherd 5-yard TD run (pass failed)
Passing (9-22-87): Tate Dobrinich 9-22-87.
Rushing (19-68): A.J. Sypherd 9-49, 1 TD; Drew Hartzell 6-24; Tate Dobrinich 1-2; Jake Cunningham 3-(-7).
Receiving (9-87): Carson Saathoff 2-39; Keenan Powell 2-37, 1 TD; A.J. Sypherd 2-13; Martavious Jones 2-6.
Defense (Solo/Assists): Martavious Jones 5/2, 1 fumble recovery; Carson Saathoff 4/3; Ryan Baugher 4/2; Hunter Hancock 4/1; A.J. Sypherd 2/2; Blake Balestri 3/1; Keenan Powell 2/1, 2 interception; Corbin Schneck 1/1; Keaton Case 2/0; Nick Hawley 1/0; Harrison Thomas 1/0; Emilliano McGill 1/0; Drew Hartzell 1/0; Tate Dobrinich 0/1.
Passing (2-4-53): Connor Overby 2-4-53, 2 INT.
Rushing (32-326): Matt Hill 8-108, 2 TD; Jake Johnson 7-105, 3 TD; Jake Watson 13-98, 3 TD; Connor Overby 2-8, 1 TD; Skylar Pavolko 1-4; Dolan Harrison 1-3.
Receiving (2-53): Cooper Bertolino 1-32; Isaac Satterlee 1-21.
Defense (Solo/Assists): Craig Bertolino 0/5; Isaac Satterlee 4/0; Cooper Bertolino 1/3; Jake Watson 1/3; Matt Hill 0/4, 1 fumble recovery; Jake Johnson 1/2; Braxston Taylor 1/2; Jackson Kirk 1/1; Tanner Woolard 0/2, 1 fumble recovery; Connor Overby 1/0; Zaylon Sisk 0/1; Ryan Quinn 1/0; Kaden Cook 0/1; Skylar Pavolko 1/0; Kolin Reynolds 1/0, 1 fumble recovery.