Cavaliers dodge Bullets in most difficult draw of
Carlinville advances to second state
semifinal in three years
By Jackson Wilson
For the second time in the last three years, the Carlinville football Cavaliers achieved two milestones – eliminating the Williamsville Bullets from the Illinois High School Association playoffs plus advancing to the state semifinals. Carlinville defeated Williamsville 42-35 in 2016 and followed it up with a hard fought 35-21 victory on Saturday.
Despite wet field conditions due to melted snow, Carlinville quarterback Jarrett Easterday still managed to complete 27 of his 38 pass attempts for a total of 243 yards and three touchdowns. The 6’4” senior has now thrown for over 3,000 yards to go along with 43 touchdowns and just two interceptions for his senior season. A major contribution to Easterday’s stand-out performance came from Jake Ambuel, who reeled in a career-high 12 catches for a total of 119 yards and a touchdown.
“With a weapon like Kyle Dixon playing alongside me, sometimes you have to spread the ball around. Today was thankfully my day to get a little bit more [yards] but it was a great overall team effort all the way around,” Ambuel said.
Williamsville won the coin toss but decided to take a massive gamble and receive the opening kickoff. The plan instantly backfired and the offense was forced to punt the football to the Carlinville 48-yard line after a quick three and out. The Cavalier offense benefited from this early momentum. A Bullets’ pass interference penalty advanced the ball to the Williamsville 38. Easterday threw a lateral pass to Dixon on the next play, and the 200 lb. senior thundered down the right sideline all the way to the end zone. The touchdown score was waved off due to Carlinville holding penalty. The Cavaliers quickly regrouped. Easterday hit Ambuel for an 11-yard first down completion at the 27. Carlinville eventually worked the football inside the 10-yard line, but the Williamsville defense managed to force a fourth down at the 5. Carlinville head coach Chad Easterday decided to take a gamble of his own and brought his offense back onto the field instead of proceeding with his original plan of settling for a field goal. Unlike Williamsville, Lady Luck was on Carlinville’s side. Will Walton came through in the clutch and made a sliding catch in the end zone to get the Cavaliers on the board first. Matt Schmidt’s successful extra point made it 7-0 with 6:30 to go in the first quarter.
Carlinville continued to bring early pressure against an electric Williamsville offense. After picking up a first down at their own 39 upon measurement of the chains, the Bullets were hit with their first turnover of the game following a costly holding penalty. On 2nd and 17 from his own 32, Williamsville quarterback Damon Coady was flushed out of the pocket by an all-out Carlinville blitz and threw an off-balance ill-advised pass into double coverage. The ball was deflected into the hands of Kyle Dixon, who returned the interception to the Williamsville 44.
The next drive turned out to be a topsy-turvy one for the Cavaliers. Easterday slipped a bit on the wet grass, but still connected with Ambuel for a 20-yard completion. Carlinville’s trip to the red zone was delayed by a penalty. With 21 yards needed for a first down, the Cavies offensive flow was cut off for a brief moment – until fourth down. Easterday threw up a prayer to a tightly covered Dixon, who miraculously found a way to haul in the pass, stay in bounds and break the plane of the first down marker at the Williamsville 9. Ethan Wallace carried the football to the 2 and Easterday dumped another touchdown pass in to Walton. Schmidt’s second extra point of the afternoon made it 14-0 Carlinville just under ten minutes into the game.
The penalties continued to pile up for the Cavaliers as the game moved into the second quarter. The Bullets started from their own 30 after recovering an onside kick. A face mask penalty made it first down near midfield. On 4th and 2 at the Carlinville 47, Coady kept the drive alive with a four-yard rush on a quarterback keeper. Back-to-back pass interference penalties by Nick Walton allowed the Bullets access to the red zone for the first time in the game. Yet, the Carlinville defense still made the appropriate adjustments when it mattered most. With the Bullets 12 yards away from the end zone on a 4th and 8, the offensive line collapsed and paid the ultimate price. Tucker Hughes and Logan Rosentreter sacked Coady on a perfectly executed Cavalier blitz for a 17-yard loss, resulting in a turnover on downs at the Carlinville 25.
The Bullets’ defense responded with a quick three and out and blocked Easterday’s punt attempt. This turned out to be a huge momentum shifter. With great starting field position at midfield, Williamsville head coach Aaron Kunz shuffled the cards and looked for a reversal of fortune with the running game. Seven consecutive quarterback keepers by Coady placed the Bullets back inside the Carlinville 15. Grant Ripperda and Keegan McGann collaborated on a series of carries to make it 1st and goal at the 3. Two plays later, Coady finished what he started and muscled his way over the goal line for a huge touchdown. Brendon Bishop capped off the six minute 50-yard scoring drive with a successful extra point kick of his own, cutting the Carlinville lead to 14-7 heading into halftime.
Coming out of the locker room, the Cavaliers regained their two-score lead with a three and a half minute drive that consisted of multiple solid rushes from Wallace. Wallace led the Cavaliers with 71 total rushing yards on 15 carries. Schmidt kicked another extra point through to make it 21-7.
Forty-five seconds later, Williamsville’s Scott O’Conner took advantage of Carlinville defensive miscommunication and broke free for a wide open 45-yard touchdown counterpunch. Another extra point from Bishop trimmed the Carlinville lead to 21-14 with 8:40 left to play in the third.
Adversity struck the Cavaliers like lightning on the next kickoff. The Bullets attempted a successful onside kick and put themselves 48 yards away from tying the game or even taking the lead. The Carlinville defense quickly stopped the bleeding and forced a turnover on downs. The noise level of the Carlinville crowd was revamped and the energy on the sideline was fully restored.
Ambuel became unstoppable on the next Cavalier drive, hauling in three different passes from Easterday – including one that went for a 12-yard touchdown on fourth down. Schmidt came out for a fourth time and converted the extra point yet again. With just over four minutes remaining in the third quarter, Carlinville was back in control, 28-14. Another “three and out” defensive stand put the Cavaliers in the driver’s seat heading into the final stretch of the game.
Eight plays later, Carlinville had its largest lead of the game thanks to a 58-yard scoring drive that was capped off by a 33-yard catch and 1-yard touchdown rush from Dixon. Schmidt cashed in his fifth extra point in as many attempts and extended the fourth quarter lead to 35-14 with 10:34 left in the game.
With the clock being against them, the Bullets knew they were going to have to respond quickly. Coady tossed the football to McGann and the senior running back showed off his inner quarterback talents with a 27-yard flea flicker pass completion to Conor McCormick at the Carlinville 38. After a 3-yard penalty was assessed to the Bullets, McGann also came up big in the wide receiver role and reeled in an 18-yard pass from Coady at the 23. With 8:41 on the clock, the Cavaliers called a timeout and shut down the Bullets’ rally. Coady threw a quick slant pass right into the waiting arms of N. Walton for his second interception of the game. The Cavies took over at their own 15-yard line.
At this point, the Cavaliers were mainly focused on taking care of the football and preventing unnecessary miscues. They kept the football on the ground and milked three and half minutes off the clock before punting back to the Bullets.
Coady led the Williamsville offense down the field and found O’Conner for his second passing touchdown of the day after nearly losing his balance on a 4th down conversion at the goal line. Bishop sent his third successful extra point through the uprights to make it a 35-21 game near the two-minute mark.
Needing a miracle, the Bullets lined up for all-out onside kick pressure. The Cavaliers overcame several tricky bounces and recovered the football – ultimately sealing the deal. On fourth down, the Bullets were whistled for a sideline infraction penalty that ended their season for good. Carlinville took a knee and killed off the game’s final minute.
The Cavaliers are 12-0 for the second time in school history and will head back out on the road to face Monticello (12-0) in the Illinois High School Association Class 3A state semifinal on Saturday at 2 p.m. This is the Cavaliers’ second appearance in the final four over the last three years. Carlinville defeated North Mac 27-21 to reach the state championship game in 2016.
“We’ve been here before. The goal is still the same. I’ve been thoroughly impressed with the 18 of them,” C. Easterday said of his seniors. “Their goal has been to return to the state title game. We haven’t kidded anyone. We’ve said that’s what we wanted to do. I told them out of the gate in August that that was a big target to put on themselves, but I’m proud of them for having that goal.”
Senior Will Walton had 4 receptions for 22 yards, including two touchdowns in the first quarter. Photo by Cory Walton.
Senior Kicker Matt Schmidt completed all five extra points and is now 49 of 53 for the season. Photo by Cory Walton.