Just out of reach: Eagles claw back from 20-point first-half deficit but can’t complete last-minute rally

CHILLICOTHE — They scratched and clawed, but in the end the Eagles fell just short.

After watching Illinois Valley Central march to a 20-point first-half lead, the Rantoul football team battled back with a momentum-grabbing score late in first half.

The Eagles then stormed out of the gate in the third quarter to score back-to-back touchdowns and take a one-point lead, but a pair of killer 15-yard penalties on defense (a facemask and an unsportsmanlike conduct foul) helped set up an IVC go-ahead touchdown at the 4:47 mark of the third period for a 26-21 lead.

The Grey Ghosts added another score with 8 minutes, 24 seconds left in the game, but Eric Cole responded with a 76-yard rushing touchdown to pull Rantoul within 33-28 at the 5:45 mark.

Rantoul recovered an ensuing onside kick, but a fourth down throw from quarterback Angelo Brown fell incomplete just over the outstretched hands of Jerry Harper. The Grey Ghosts converted a first down and ran out the clock.

“I thought we came out real flat and lethargic, and when crunch time was on, it was like they all of a sudden kicked it into gear,” Rantoul coach Tom Hess said. “It’s like, ‘Why can’t we be in that gear all the time?’ And that’s what we need to do is find out how we can get them into that gear because that’s what it takes to beat good teams. You’ve got to find your best gear.”

IVC (2-4) jumped ahead behind 13-yard touchdown runs by Alex Fulton and Ethan Kempf, and an Alex Merlo 6-yard rushing touchdown with 3:45 left in the second quarter gave the Grey Ghosts a 20-0 advantage.

The Eagles (2-4) responded with a 22-yard run by Taveous Bell before an 11-yard run by Brown and 32-yard completion from Brown to Hayden Cargo set up Brown’s 3-yard touchdown run with under a minute remaining in the first half.

On the first play of the second half, Brown reached paydirt on a 77-yard rushing touchdown, and a 38-yard run by the signal caller on the next drive set up Bell’s 1-yard go-ahead rushing score before IVC went ahead with its third-quarter score.

“I’m really proud of the effort they had and the plays they made to keep us in the game,” Hess said. “We executed some big plays; we just couldn’t sustain anything offensively. That’s a problem for our offense. If we’re not chugging away, we get behind in the down-and-distance. It’s hard for us.”

Brown led the Eagles with 13 carries for 156 yards and two touchdowns.

With the junior hitting the 100-plus plateau, it marked the fifth time in six games the Eagles had a rusher hit the century mark.

Bell finished with 13 carries for 57 yards and a score, and Cole and DeAndre Walker, starting on both sides of the ball at fullback and linebacker for Donnell Robertson who was out sick, are another pair who made some big plays throughout the night.

“Those guys played really well, but we just need a whole team effort,” Hess said. “Our theme this week, actually, was effort. You could see great effort at times, but you could also see at the beginning, there wasn’t great effort. We just need to be consistent.”

It was a similar start to the game the Eagles dealt with in their Week 5 win over St. Thomas More. Rantoul saw the Sabers take an early 7-0 lead before rattling off 54 unanswered points.

“We’ve obviously started slow in both games (against STM and IVC),” Hess said. “They know they’re capable because they proved it. We scored 28 points, but just having to punt so many times and getting behind in the down-and-distance (cost us). I’ll take the blame for it because I feel like I didn’t have them quite prepared. I didn’t have a great practice week myself, so I take the blame for not having them all prepared, and I salute them for fighting back, keeping us in the game and making some plays.”

The Eagles will welcome Bloomington Central Catholic (5-1) to Bill Walsh Field on Friday. The Saints are coming off a 55-7 drubbing of STM.

Contact Zack Carpenter at zcarpenter@rantoulpress.com and on Twitter @ZCarp11.  

Categories (3):Prep Sports, Football, Sports


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