Eagles capture second win of season, stave off Central Catholic

BLOOMINGTON — It was starting to look way too eerie for Tom Hess.

On Friday night, the Rantoul football coach watched as his team took a 34-28 lead in the fourth quarter over Bloomington Central Catholic but then missed the ensuing extra point following Angelo Brown’s 60-yard touchdown run midway through the period.

It was an identical scenario to Week 6, when the Eagles went ahead 34-28 over Illinois Valley Central with less than five minutes remaining in the game, missed the extra point and gave up a game-winning touchdown in a 35-34 loss.

This time around, however, the Eagles were able to come through in the clutch, as the defense held on both of Central Catholic’s next two possession, and Brown’s touchdown and two-point conversion with 1:19 left gave the Eagles a 42-28 victory over their Illini Prairie Conference foe.

“We missed the extra point, and it was like, ‘Oh my gosh. It’s a repeat. Exactly like last week,’” Hess said. “But this week, the defense stepped up. We got a stop and scored again, and then we were able to convert a two-point that gave us that spread. The defense stepped up again, and we got a stop. Real proud of the defense for stepping up in that fourth quarter and making some big plays. The guys stuck together and made some plays.

“For us, any win is just a huge thing. We haven’t had a lot, and in our conference it’s just so tough to get a win. It takes a lot. It takes everything. It takes four quarters and everybody doing their job. The kids were all excited about it. Losing the last couple weeks was really hard on us. We were being very competitive in those games, but not finishing them off is tough. It’s frustrating, and our team was really frustrated the last couple weeks.”

Central Catholic tied the score at 28-28 on a 5-yard touchdown run by Reece Seidl with less than seven minutes remaining, but Brown responded almost immediately.

Luke Zech scored on a 3-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 7 in the first quarter, and Brown’s 5-yard touchdown sprint later tied the score at 14 with less than 15 seconds remaining before halftime.

BCC took a 21-14 edge midway through the third period, but Logan Evans and Deandre Renfro each punched in an 11-yard rushing score for a 28-21 edge.

Brown exploding

The Eagles (2-5) suffered back-to-back heartbreaking defeats (50-38 to St. Thomas More in Week 5 and IVC last week, but they were able to lock down their second victory over the Saints (0-7) behind 143 yards rushing and three touchdowns from Brown.

The senior quarterback has scored 12 touchdowns over the past three games and has shown a remarkable ability to improvise and make plays when things break down.

"There were some plays where we wanted to throw, and he didn’t throw it because they took it away. Instead of throwing it away or possibly throwing an interception, he tucked it and ran it to get us some extra yards,” Hess said. “He’s always been a good athlete. The things he’s really improved on in the last week are ball security and leadership. Discipline and leadership are the things we’ve really tried to instill in our players.

“In the IVC game, he led the team. Even though we lost, he managed the clock and managed the team. He had ball security that we needed. We lost, but he played so well there. And coming into this game, we’re still working on some discipline things, but his talent and leadership is a huge influence on our team. When he’s doing his thing, our team is hard to stop.”

In addition to his playmaking skills, Brown’s feel for the game has continued to develop during his senior season, and Hess’ trust in him to have the keys to the offense has grown.

“A couple times, he’s asked for a play, and when your players are asking for a certain play, to be able to trust them to execute that play is big. There were a couple times he was like, ‘Hey let’s run this play.’ When he’s saying that, I know he’s seeing something,” Hess said. “I think he has a much better understanding of our offense, and he has a savviness to him to see the plays and know what to do. After running the offense for two years now, he’s got a good handle on it. The savviness he has, that’s the word I would use. When we have a play call, and it’s not there, he makes good decisions with the ball.

“To have a handle on the offense to call plays and see what’s going to be effective, it’s huge to have players that can do that.”

It has been a challenge for Hess’ players to become accustomed to the rigors of playing in competitive games that go down to the wire. After several seasons in which nearly every game was a blowout loss, there has been a learning curve for the Eagles.

“We’re competing, and our guys are getting used to competing on every play throughout the whole game,” Hess said. “The game’s on the line every game, and that’s something to get used to is competing and not being down by 40 and then making a big play. But actually having to make a play when it matters, and feeling the pressure of having to make those plays, is something we need to get used to. And feeling the pain of not making the play and this week feeling the joy of coming through and making the play is a great feeling.”

The Eagles return home in Week 8, taking on Unity (2-5), which is also coming off 27-17 win over St. Thomas-More.

“Next week coming up, it’s senior night for us. It’s our last chance to play in front of our home crowd, and we have a chance to beat Unity,” Hess said. “We’ve never beat Unity, and that would kind of be like our Super Bowl. To win at home and send our seniors off with a win, it’s a lot for us to play for.”

Blaine Lewallen contributed to this report

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

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