Diorio, Delaney lead Bunnies' comeback victory to lock down second straight playoff berth

FISHER — In the middle of the second quarter, with his team trailing 6-0, head coach Jake Palmer and the Fisher football staff made a subtle but big change.

The Bunnies shifted defensive lineman Tanner Diorio from the right side of the line into the nose guard position, so the senior would be over Deer Creek-Mackinaw’s center.

The move proved to be a game changer, as Diorio exploded for 17 total tackles, including six tackles-for-loss.

The senior’s star defensive performance, combined with Will Delaney’s interception on defense and two fourth-quarter touchdown passes, led to Fisher’s come-from-behind win over the Chiefs, 19-18, on Friday night to lock down the Bunnies’ second consecutive playoff berth.

“Tanner was unbelievable,” Palmer said. “On the defensive side of the ball, there wasn’t anything we schemed up as coaches or did anything special to win us that game. I told him that after the game. I said, ‘Son, we won that game because of how well you played defensively.’ It was just a supreme effort on his part just getting off the ball every single time. He was virtually unblockable for us.

“(Moving him to nose guard) really shored up the defense. He was playing on the strong side, and once we moved him to the middle, we were much improved. If we can get everybody playing with the effort level he played with (Friday), we’re going to be in really good shape. Just really proud of him and his effort. He played a heck of a game, and he deserves it.”

The Bunnies (6-1) led 7-6 at halftime after Tyler Wilson (142 yards rushing on 33 carries) plunged in for a 5-yard rushing touchdown.

But the Chiefs (3-4) responded in the third quarter with Ben Joos’ 4-yard rushing score and a 50-yard touchdown strike from Zack Horve to Cori Payne for an 18-7 lead with less than a minute remaining in the period.

Delaney answered back by connecting with Cory Hicks for a 15-yard touchdown catch at the 11:34 mark of the fourth quarter.

On the Chiefs’ first possession of the final period, the safety Delaney stepped in front of a pass to haul in a critical interception, and the junior returned the ball to the 6-yard line.

He then found Tyler Martin on a slant pass for a touchdown from 6 yards out to give the Bunnies their one-point edge, and the defense held on for the win.

“It was a pretty awesome comeback for our kids. I was just really proud of the fight and resiliency they showed down the stretch,” Palmer said. “We were down 18-7 going into the fourth, and not a lot had gone right for us. We hadn’t played super well except in the second quarter. They definitely outplayed us in the third, and I thought our kids really fought through some adversity and stayed with the plan, and we were able to come out victorious.”

Last season, Fisher took down Dee-Mack 24-23 on the road against a Chiefs team then-ranked No. 2 in the state in Class 2A. It was a huge victory for the Bunnies and proved to be the most important during a 6-4 campaign that ended in a playoff berth.

In that win, the Bunnies controlled the ball the entire game and had to stave off a Chiefs comeback bid. This time around, it was Fisher clawing its way back into it, and now that they have secured a postseason spot, the Bunnies are seeking to accomplish two more high goals they set before the season — getting a home playoff game and winning a conference championship in the Heart of Illinois Conference Small division.

“We talked to our kids all week about wanting to get to six wins. Last year, it took us until Week 9 to get six wins. We really tried to have a sense of urgency when speaking to the kids this week about how important it was to get to six and not squander the opportunity of getting it done in Week 7,” Palmer said. “They didn’t take that for granted, and they fought to get there. We always want to make the playoffs, and the next goal on our agenda is we want to win a conference championship. We have two really challenging weeks these next two weeks.”

The Bunnies will square off against Ridgeview/Lexington (3-4) at home in Week 8 and LeRoy (3-4) on the road in Week 9.

“We’re exactly where we want to be. I got a text last night from my old high school coach, and he said, ‘Hey, you’re 6-1. Think about how many teams in the state would love to be you guys,’” Palmer said. “I kind of relayed that to the kids in our meetings (Saturday) morning, but I also relayed that I don’t think we’ve played our best football yet. I think our best football’s still ahead of us. We still have a lot to work on and improve, but I really like where we’re at. Hosting a home playoff game is absolutely really important for us to be able to do that in front of our fans. Our fans are so great, and we would love that opportunity to get that postseason game on our home field.”

Contact Zack Carpenter at zcarpenter@rantoulpress.com and on Twitter @ZackCarpenter11.

Categories (3):Prep Sports, Football, Sports

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