OAKLAND – Friday, Oct. 20 marked the final week of football for the Tri-County Titans, who hosted Senior Night against the Villa Grove Blue Devils in a conference clash. After a hotly contested start, an explosive third quarter by the Blue Devils opened up the game for Villa Grove, resulting in a 60-20 loss for the home team.
The first quarter saw both teams turn the ball over on downs before the Titans drew first blood at the 4:31 mark. Using some strong running on a short field, Clay Kibler punched the ball in from four yards out. The extra point attempt failed, making the score 6-0. The Blue Devils answered very quickly to end the frame as Gunner Cline found a seam to take the ball twenty yards for the score. Sophia Shaw hit the extra point to give the visitors a 7-6 lead.
The second stanza saw the Blue Devils get back on the board after forcing a Titan turnover. An interception thrown by Garrett Pollock led to a Lane Rund touchdown on a quarterback keeper from three yards out. Shaw hit the extra point to make the score 14-6.
The Titans answered on the next possession as Myles Watson took an end around and got a key block from Kibler to scamper 27 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown. The two-point conversion ended up short, cutting the deficit to 14-12.
Near the end of the half, the Blue Devils found some way to avoid a slew of Titan tacklers to get the ball down to the Tri-County nine-yard line. With 0:48 left in the frame, Rund found Noah Wilcoxon for a nine-yard touchdown pass. The extra point hit the right upright to keep the score at 20-12. The Blue Devils almost found the endzone again on a pass, but a penalty ended the drive as the Titans held the line.
The third quarter ended up being the swing of the contest. Villa Grove scored at the 9:03 mark as Hunter Butts found an opening to go 22 yards for a touchdown. Shaw hit the extra point to make the score 27-12.
The Blue Devils got the ball back after another Titans interception and went down the field to capitalize. Rund punched the ball in from one yard out with 7:06 left. Shaw's extra point increased the Villa Grove lead to 34-12.
The visitors still were not done, recovering an onside kick and using a short field to score once again, this time with 5:58 left as Cline muscled in from two yards out. The extra point failed to put the tally at 40-12.
The Blue Devil onslaught continued as Cline took a handoff and scampered in from seven yards out with just under two minutes to play in the quarter. The missed extra point put Villa Grove up 46-12.
Cline put a cap on an incredible frame for the Blue Devils with an explosive 46-yard touchdown run. The extra point was missed, but the touchdown capped off 32 unanswered points. Will Grove held a commanding 52-12 lead going into the fourth quarter.
The Titans used the running clock in the fourth quarter to burn 9:45 seconds. The Titans gave senior linemen Cole Decker, Jeremiah Evans and Wyatt Conner chances to carry the ball.
The drive ended at the 2:15 mark as Alex Hoel ran the ball in from six yards out. Hoel ran the two-point conversion into the endzone, making the score 52-20. On the ensuing kickoff, Brayon Dowler took the ball from the Blue Devils' 23-yard line and found a seam up the far sideline, running 77 yards on the return for a touchdown with 2:00 left. Rund found Lukas Shadwick for the two-point conversion to make the final score 60-20.
Despite the loss, Head Coach TJ Blake recognized the grit and determination of his team. Tri-County kept the game close in the first half and Blake knows that experience will help them going forward.
"That is just the testament to what we want to do as a football team," he said. "We want to grind the clock out. We want to be able to control the clock and keep the other team's offense off the field. That is kind of what we did in the first half. They (Villa Grove) made some big plays, and that is why they went up eight at halftime… we believed all season long that we have guys that we can compete with anybody. You can see it on film that we can make plays. It is just a matter of stacking them together."
Clay Kibler had 22 carries for 67 yards and a touchdown to lead the way for Tri-County while Myles Watson had nine carries for 49 yards and a score along with three catches for 19 yards.
Alex Hoel had three catches for 45 yards and one run for six yards and a touchdown. Jeremiah Evans had one carry for ten yards. Garrett Pollock was nine of 16 passing for 76 yards and two interceptions. Caden Logan had three catches for 12 yards.
Kibler and Watson each had three solo tackles on the defensive side while Logan added two solo tackles. Hoel recorded a sack on that side of the ball.
With the season concluded, Coach Blake expressed his respect and love for his players and knows that offseason work will be key going into next year.
"We just got to get everybody on the boat (referring to the phrase "row the boat" from University of Minnesota Head Football Coach PJ Fleck)," Blake said. "We're going to attack this offseason. We're going to grind some guys. We're going to find out who wants to play and see who has the "dawg" in them… The biggest thing is we got to start working in the offseason. There is potential and I am really excited. I am disappointed that I couldn't send these seniors out the way I wanted to send them out. At the end of the day, I don't think they will forget it either. At the end of the day, these kids know that I love them."
The Titans finish the season at 0-9 overall and 0-9 in the Lincoln Prairie Conference.