A-J rallies for 56-41 victory over Vandalia
It couldn’t have looked much worse for the Anna-Jonesboro Community High School football team after falling behind early 14-0 and then 20-7 to host Vandalia Saturday, Nov. 11.
But the Wildcats were able to bounce back on their way to a 56-41 win in the quarterfinals of the Illinois High School Association Class 3A football playoffs.
“We didn’t get off to a very good start,” A-J coach Brett Detering said. “We gave up a couple of big plays then. But, I’m very proud of them for not panicking and making plays that they needed to.”
The Wildcats’ offense exploded for 568 yards rushing, with fullback Jayce Turner leading the way with 214 yards on 30 carries.
Quarterback Bryce Osman added 170 yards on 17 carries and wide receiver Ariel Hart added 134 yards on 12 carries.
The Vandals racked up 237 yards rushing and 239 yards passing.
It took only three plays before Vandalia running back Trevor Smalls scored on a 65-yard run. Ethan Bayles’ extra point kick boosted the Vandals to a 7-0 lead with 10:20 remaining in the first quarter.
A-J’s first drive stalled and Zach Massey’s punt put Vandalia deep in its own territory.
But Smalls broke through for a 73-yard TD run on the first play from the line of scrimmage. Bayles’ kick gave the Vandals a 14-0 advantage with 8:48 remaining in the opening quarter.
“On some of those plays we had people there who didn’t make tackles,” Detering said. “We’ve got to get better than that, especially in the playoffs.”
It still didn’t look very promising for A-J. Marcus Zimmerman intercepted Osman’s pass to thwart its next drive.
After forcing a punt, A-J’s Hart made a good punt return to midfield.
Osman then scored on a 16-yard run after an 8-play drive.
Jaryt Tripp’s extra point kick pulled A-J to 14-7 with 33 seconds remaining in the opening quarter.
Six plays later, Smalls scored again on a 3-yard run. Bayles’ extra point kick was no good and the Vandals pulled ahead 20-7 with 9:06 remaining in the second quarter.
The Wildcats bounced right back and Osman connected with Hart for a 31-yard TD pass at the end of a four-play drive. Tripp’s kick pulled A-J to 20-14 with 7:37 remaining in the second quarter.
The Wildcats recovered running back Dylan Garrett’s fumble to start their next drive.
Osman then scored on a 6-yard run to cap a 7-play drive. Tripp’s kick put A-J ahead for keeps 21-20 with 4:16 remaining in the second quarter.
Smalls was halted on a fourth down run to thwart Vandalia’s final drive of the first half.
The Wildcats took over and were driving into Vandal territory when the first half ended with A-J holding that slim 21-20 lead.
A-J was on the move on its first drive to open the second half.
Osman scored on a 45-yard run to cap a 6-play drive.
Tripp’s kick boosted the Wildcats to a 28-20 advantage with 9:19 remaining in the third quarter.
Vandals quarterback Matthew Wills then connected with Zimmerman for a 72-yard TD pass.
Bayles’ kick was good and Vandalia pulled to 28-27 with 8:43 remaining in the third quarter.
The Wildcats came right back and Reid Morrison scored on a 16-yard run after a 6-play drive.
Tripp’s kick boosted A-J to a 35-27 advantage with 7:13 remaining in the quarter.
The Vandals didn’t waste much time responding and Zimmerman scored on a 90-yard kick off return.
Bayles’ kick was no good and Vandalia pulled to 35-33 with 6:55 remaining in the quarter.
The Wildcats were then forced to punt for only the second time in the game.
Vandalia had a lengthy drive going until Osman intercepted Wells’ pass.
“That was a big interception,” Detering noted. “It was a big turnover. In games like this turnovers can make the difference.”
Turner then scored on a 44-yard run after a three play drive.
Tripp’s kick put A-J on top 42-33 with no time remaining in the third quarter.
Following a Vandalia punt, A-J was on the move again in the final quarter.
After two plays, Osman scored on a 53-yard run. Tripp’s kick put A-J on top 49-33 with 10:15 remaining in the game.
Five plays later, quarterback Wells connected with Blake Morrison for a 27-yard TD strike.
Bayles’ kick was good and the Vandals pulled to 49-41 wth 8:27 remaining in the game.
On A-J’s final drive, Turner ran all seven plays capped with a 24-yard TD run. Tripp’s kick closed out the scoring with 1:05 remaining in the game.
The Vandals were driving downfield when the game ended.
“We got some defensive stops in the second half,” Detering said.
The Wildcats were encouraged by a large number of A-J fans who made the trip to Vandalia.
“The fans were great,” Detering said. “They were able to stand close to the field. Our kids fed off that. They were noisy and loud and gave our kids extra momentum.”