Senior 'Skins Leave Their Mark

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The 2021-22 season of Nokomis High School football was the 100th in the program’s history and it was definitely a memorable one for all of those involved.

The team went 7-3 overall, earning a spot in the playoffs for what essentially was the second straight year, something they hadn’t done since 2014 and 2015. In reality, they actually had playoff caliber years three times, with a 6-0 record in last season’s COVID spring campaign.

The wins in the fall 2021 season were memorable for their voracity, as the Redskins won seven games by a combined score of 335 to 69, with a pair of shutouts against Sullivan to start the regular season and Dupo to end it.

In that mix were wins over rivals past (Litchfield and Gillespie from the South Central Conference days), present (Alton Marquette) and maybe never again (Edwards County, who came on as a last minute replacement as the Redskins trekked two and a half hours away to Albion).

Only one of the seven wins by less than three scores, a 24-20 victory over another familiar foe, East Alton-Wood River. That game showed as much of what Nokomis football was made of in 2021 as any game on the schedule as the Redskins came back from a 20-6 halftime deficit and an injury to all-stater Landon Engelman to capture the victory.

That never surrender spirit was evident in the ‘Skins’ losses too, especially the final two of the season. In week eight, Nokomis fell to Pana 17-0 in a game that felt like a playoff contest despite being played virtually under water due to rain storms throughout the night. Seventeen points were the fewest scored by the Panthers in their 12 games in 2021 as Pana averaged just over 40 per game before being knocked out of the postseason by Nashville.

Nokomis’ final loss of the season was in the first round of the playoffs against Central A&M, who had beaten the Redskins 45-14 in week two. Coach Paul Watson promised that the rematch wouldn’t be a repeat of the Redskins’ trip to Moweaqua and it wasn’t, as Nokomis battled the Raiders for four quarters before falling 14-6.

“They did what we asked them to. They left it all out on the field,” Head Coach Paul Watson said after the game. “We had a great week of practice and we told them to come out and play physical and play hard and maybe we will get some breaks. It just didn’t go our way.”

“Play physical and play hard” could have been the motto for Nokomis the past four years, all of which ended with a winning record. Much of that philosophy can be attributed to a 12-player senior class that was the core of this year’s success, and last year’s as well.

Wherever you looked on the field, on the line, in the backfield, in the secondary or under center, you’d find a senior for the Redskins. They ran, they caught, they passed and they hit… hard, really hard.

Of Nokomis’ top 11 tacklers, 10 were seniors. Jake Watson led that group with 60 tackles, followed by Jake Johnson and Matt Hill in the top three. Junior Craig Bertolino broke up the senior sweep, but the trend continued with Connor Overby, Cooper Bertolino, Isaac Satterlee, Tanner Woolard, Nolan Ernst, Wyatt Dooley and Kaden Cook. Add in Landon Engelman and Kaleb Kuhn and seniors accounted for 388 of Nokomis’ 495 tackles, including seven of their eight sacks, six of their seven interceptions and half of their 12 fumble recoveries.

The impact on offense was just as great for the class of 2022. Nokomis had five players rush for over 200 yards this season, all of them seniors. Matt Hill led that group with 838 yards, despite missing one game due to injury, and also had 10 rushing touchdowns. Jake Watson finished just behind Hill with 804 yards and a team-best 12 scores on the ground.

Jake Johnson added 655 yards and nine rushing touchdowns, including a 97-yard run at Dupo that broke Coach Paul Watson’s school record for longest TD run. Even though he missed half the season with a broken arm, Landon Engelman still had a year most players would kill for, with 480 yards on just 44 carries with seven touchdowns on the ground.

The fifth element of the Nokomis ground game was quarterback Connor Overby, who had 213 yards and seven rushing touchdowns. The Redskin QB also threw for 326 yards, with 15 completions and three touchdown passes.

His targets? Also all seniors. Cooper Bertolino had 110 yards receiving on six catches, including one that went for six points. Isaac Satterlee added in four catches for 53 yards, while both Jake Johnson and Landon Engelman had three catches each for 57 and 58 yards respectively. Matt Hill rounded out the passing game with a 58-yard touchdown reception from Overby for his lone reception.

Off the field, the seniors made an impact, too. Both Johnson and Engelman were named to the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association All-State Academic Team and Engelman and Hill are both in this year’s Montgomery County CEO class.

While it’s tough to get a glimpse of a player’s character seeing him or her just a few times a week on the field and sidelines, others have said that some members of the senior class have excelled in that aspect as well. Usually, on the rare occurrence that a parent contacts us to ask to focus attention on a player, it is about his or her offspring, but that wasn’t the case this year.

“I just feel that Jake Johnson and Jake Watson have always shown exceptional humbleness and sportsmanship. They’re always picking the opposing team up off the field by lending a hand, in addition to helping their own teammates,” one Nokomis mom wrote. “Regardless of how many rushing yards, touchdowns or records they break, their hearts and humbleness will always be remembered by their peers and people around them.”

And that is one of the most important parts of the senior class’s legacy. Their role this year went beyond carrying the load on offense and defense. Their role was to teach the next generation of Redskins what it meant to have that name on the front of your jersey.

That next generation will have their hands full replacing the production that will graduate in May, but they have already learned what it takes to make the Nokomis community proud of you. And if you go to a game, you’ll learn it too, loud and clear from the sidelines. All it takes, is all you got.

Nokomis Football Playoff Qualifiers

1977-78 9-2 Bill Vangel

1986-87 7-3 Dan Easterday

1994-95 7-3 Dan Easterday

1995-96 6-4 Dan Easterday

1999-00 6-4 Dan Easterday

2000-01 6-4 Dan Easterday

2001-02 7-3 Dan Easterday

2002-03 9-2 Dan Easterday

2003-04 5-5 Dan Easterday

2006-07 9-2 Gabe Cesaretti

2007-08 5-5 Gabe Cesaretti

2011-12 6-4 Gabe Cesaretti

2012-13 8-2 Gabe Cesaretti

2013-14 7-3 Gabe Cesaretti

2014-15 6-4 Gabe Cesaretti

2019-20 7-3 Paul Watson

2021-22 7-3 Paul Watson

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