In front of a capacity crowd on Homecoming night, the top two teams in the Little Illini Conference put on quite a show Friday at Tiger Stadium.
When the final horn sounded, the Paris Tigers came from behind to celebrate a 42-27 triumph over the Olney Tigers. With the victory, the Tigers improve to 7-0 on the season and, more importantly, 6-0 in the LIC. The loss by Olney drops them to 4-3 on the season and 4-2 in the conference.
For the first time all season, the Paris Tigers trailed in a football game. Olney came out of the starting blocks eating up chunks of yards against the Tiger defense. On their first possession, the visitors marched 68-yards in eight plays to grab a 7-0 lead, just 3:08 into the contest.
In a move that caught Paris off-guard, Olney kicked an onside kick that bounced off of a Paris player and recovered by Olney. Five plays later, Olney found the end zone on a 29-yard pass play to give them an early 14-0.
The Tigers got down to business. Nathan Zorn began the next Tiger drive with a 44-yard run down to the Olney 11-yard line. Caleb Mullenix took a handoff from Caleb Gates and battled his way into the endzone for the apparent score. There was some confusion on the part of the officials after the ball popped loose but, after meeting about the situation, they awarded the score to Cooper Block who recovered the fumble in the end zone. Garrett King kicked the extra-point to pull the Tigers within a touchdown at 14-7.
Olney mounted a drive that stalled near mid-field, forcing them to punt the ball back to Paris. With Paris backed up following a false start penalty, the Tiger coaching staff turned to Mullenix on a jet-sweep. The senior receiver out-ran all of the Olney defenders on his way to an 83-yard touchdown. King added the extra point to tie the score at 14-all with 1:27 left in the opening quarter.
Coach Jeremy Clodfelder huddled his team up after they overcame a two-touchdown effort and told them, “We took their best shot and now we are even again.”
The two teams traded empty possessions to start the second quarter, with Olney scoring the only points of the period on a 36-yard touchdown reception. Paris trailed at the half 21-14.
Paris received the opening kickoff of the second half, looking to even the score once again. On a controversial play, Gates hit Mullenix over the middle for a completion, but Mullenix coughed up the ball, which was recovered by Olney at the Paris 24-yard line. It appeared as though Mullenix never had control of the ball and the call should have simply been an incomplete pass. The Paris coaching staff argued the call and the officials huddled up again, but the call was upheld. Olney was unable to move the ball and turned it over on downs.
Paris took over at their own 27-yard line and methodically marched down the field. Gates and Nathan Zorn were the story on this drive, as the two were the only Paris players to handle the ball. The big play of the drive was a 40-yard burst by Zorn to set the Tigers up with a first-and-10 at the Olney 13-yard line. Four plays later, Gates plunged in from one yard out to make the score 21-20 with 5:13 left in the third period. Olney blocked the extra point attempt by King.
The Paris defense flexed its muscles throughout the second half, but none more than on the next Olney possession. Facing a fourth-and-11 at their own 32-yard line, Olney was forced to punt. Tiger junior and special teams player Tristan Gross came up with a momentum changing play for Paris as he busted through the right side of the Olney line and blocked the punt from Quinn Miller. The ball went out-of-bounds and the Tigers took over at the Olney 13-yard line. Coy Landrum then found pay dirt from two yards out, then found the end zone again on the two-point conversion to put the Tigers on top 28-21 at the 1:04 mark of the third quarter.
Paris was the recipient of some good fortune on the next Olney possession as the snap from center sailed over quarterback Dakotah Brown’s head. Paris recovered the ball at the Olney 23-yard line.
Mullenix then took the handoff from Gates and scored what appeared to be a backbreaking touchdown, only to have it called back for offensive holding. Gates then found a wide-open Carter Hays in the end zone for a 33-yard touchdown. King tacked on the extra-point, giving the Tigers the 35-21 lead with 11:33 left in the game.
Paris fell victim to the same play that accounted for two of the first three touchdowns, as Olney hit their third wheel route of the game to bring the visitors to within one score, 35-27. Freshman special teamer Nick Mohler blocked the extra-point attempt to keep the lead at eight points.
Carter Hays came up with his second big play of the night as he took the ensuing kickoff at his own 10-yard line, and returned 35 yards to the Tiger 45. With 5:25 left in the game, the Tigers looked to chew as much time off of the clock as they could in hopes of closing out the game. That plan worked to perfection as the Tigers converted two key third down plays to keep the clock moving.
The first was a 13-yard pass from Gates to Zorn. The next was a seven-yard run by Zorn on third-and-1. Landrum rattled off a pair of runs that covered 20 yards, and Mullinex found the end zone from 10-yards out for the touchdown. Mullinex scored thanks in large part to a heads-up play by Landrum on the TD run. It appeared that Mullinex was going to the ground but Landrum alertly grabbed him and “helped” him back to his feet. King added the extra point to make the score 42-27.
Paris gained 432 yards of total offense on the night, while holding Olney to 291 yards on the same number of plays. The home team gained 293 yards on the ground on 42 attempts. Olney ran the ball 25 times for just 76-yards. Gates completed 12-of-17 passes for 139 yards and one touchdown. The Tigers had a pair of 100-yard rushers on the night, with Zorn gaining 119 yards on 13 carries and Mullenix adding 100 yards and two touchdowns on five carries. Landrum added 58 yards on nine carries and a touchdown, and Gates carried the ball 13 times for 20 yards and a score. Mullenix also caught seven passes for 78 yards to give him 178 total yards on the night. Hays caught both passes thrown to him for 39 yards and a touchdown. Zorn hauled in a pair of passes for 13 yards, and Josh Willmoth caught one pass for nine yards.