By Tim Hendershot
VILLA GROVE — The Tri-County Titans squared off with the Villa Grove-Heritage Blue Devils in a LOVC Southeast Division contest with huge playoff implications.
At the end of the evening, the Titans came up short, losing to the Blue Devils 21-7.
The Titans were coming off of a 42-8 win the previous week over Martinsville at home while the Blue Devils won a hard fought 24-14 contest in Palestine against Oblong/Palestine-Hutsonville to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Tri-County needed just one win out of their last two games — along with a lot of help from some other teams — to become playoff eligible. The Blue Devils still needed to win their last two games to become eligible and got the first must win against the Titans Friday evening.
Neither team could really move the ball in the first quarter — two possessions each. The Titan punting unit gave TCT the field position advantage with both punts rolling inside the 20-yard line.
One of those punts was a pooch punt by quarterback Mitch Pollock that rolled to the VGH one-yard line. The stanza ended with the score at 0-0.
The game was still at a slow pace until the Blue Devils finally struck with 4:34 left in the second quarter taking advantage of some costly Titan penalties. Blue Devil quarterback Evan Wilson found Blake Smith for an eight-yard touchdown pass. The conversion try failed leaving the score at 6-0 in favor of VGH. That score held up as the team went into the locker room for halftime.
In the third quarter, the game had a little controversy as it looked like a TCT punt hit the shoulder of a VGH player near the midfield stripe and Titans recovered.
Officials ruled the ball did not hit the VGH player, giving the ball to the Blue Devils.
VGH capitalized once again using costly penalties by TCT to drive the ball deep. Blue Devil Zach Champagne ran the ball in from six yards out at the 4:34 mark. Kehm Shirley then ran in the two point conversion to make the score 14-0.
TCT then drove the ball deep into VGH territory to run out the third quarter clock in business with a key 4th and 3 play in the Blue Devils Red Zone.
The Titans were able to convert the fourth down play to start the final quarter and capitalized with a score as Lane Bisby plunged the ball in from one yard out at the 9:05 mark. Blake Lee added the extra point to cut the deficit to 14-7.
The Titans were out of time outs and needed to get the ball back quickly.
On the next possession, the Blue Devils used strong clock management to construct a six-minute drive punctuated by Smith catching his second touchdown pass of the game on a halfback pass from Robbie Wickander with 3:05 remaining in the game. Zayzen Price added the extra point to put VGH back up 21-7.
The Titans tried to put together a quick drive on the next possession, but Mitch Pollock’s pass was intercepted by the Blue Devils to give the home team the ball back. VGH was able to use ball control and run out the clock to take the win.
The Titans only racked up 112 total yards of offense on 38 plays. Lane Bisby had 13 carries for 34 yards and the lone score. Blake Lee had five carries for 24 yards and Mitch Pollock was 2 of 10 passing for 23 yards and two interceptions. Pollock also added seven touches for 23 yards on the ground.
Bisby finished with ten tackles and a sack while Drew Bevill had seven tackles and Daniel Drake added six tackles.
The Titans (4-4, 1-3 LOVC Southeast) will now play in a “win or go home” contest on Friday night in Arcola against the Arcola Purple Riders. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Arcola High School.