Cavaliers stumble in state title game
Cavaliers get off to rocky start, can’t recover in title game
By Eric Becker
The last three weeks through this magical postseason run, the Carlinville football team had fallen behind 7-0 in the first quarter, only to storm back to win.
Reaching the pinnacle of Class 3A on Friday afternoon, the state championship game against Elmhurst IC Catholic Prep, Carlinville once again fell behind early.
This time, it was too much to overcome in a 43-0 loss to the Knights at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.
The Cavies did all they could against a team that was expected to win the state championship from the start of the year, beating most of their opponents from classes higher than 3A.
The first minute of the game proved to be key, as the Knights scored 15 points 60 seconds into the game and 29 points in the first quarter.
“We had a few mistakes early that cost us,” Carlinville coach Chad Easterday said. “Overall, for two and a half quarters we did a pretty good job of keeping them in check.”
“It’s an incredible accomplishment of our kids,” IC Prep coach Bill Krefft said. “In these sort of games, it’s a lot for a young man to take in. We kind of built off each other. Once we got the momentum, we just kept going and going.”
Carlinville elected to kickoff to start the game and Jordan Rowell went to work, picking up 23 yards on the first two carries of the game.
On second and 12, Luke Ricobene’s pass to Matt Sutton of 37 yards puts the Knights on the board first at 7-0, just 51 seconds into the game.
Khalil Saunders recovered a pooch kickoff near the sidelines that the Cavaliers could not cover the ball.
On the next play, from the Carlinville 28-yard line, Ricobene’s pass to Lazerick Eatman for a touchdown made it 15-0 just one minute into the game.
“It was very important to get up on this football team so we got them out of what they wanted to do,” Krefft said.
“Our defense has been very impressive giving up only seven points a game,” Ricobene said. “So if we get a lead we know the defense will take care of the rest.”
“Obviously it was not the way we wanted to start a championship game by any shape,” Easterday said.
When Carlinville did get the ball, they were able to get some drives going, however, unable to dent the scoreboard.
Jacob Dixon had a 15-yard run on the second play from scrimmage. Walton completed a nine-yard pass to Konnor Emmons for another first-down, and Brady Jamieson had a nine-yard catch for a first-down to mid field.
“I believe in our guys and they opened up some holes,” J.Dixon said. “We didn’t stop battling at all and I couldn’t be more proud of our team.”
Kyle Dixon with a 10-yard catch and a subsequent J.Dixon two-yard run got the ball as close as the Knight-38 yard line. A pair of penalties followed, however, and Saunders intercepted a pass at the IC 34-yard line to end the drive.
An 11-play drive for the Knights ended with a 20-yard Rowell touchdown run which made it 22-0 with less than three minutes left in the opening quarter.
After going three and out, Carlinville’s defense allowed a 60-yard touchdown drive in six plays, taking 1:28 off the clock. Rowell’s 14-yard run made it 29-0 late in the first quarter.
“They came out strong and we knew they had an explosive offense,” CHS senior Dylan Chism said. “The first quarter was a little rough but the second quarter we came out and pretty much shut them down like we normally do. Everyone never gave up and we just played our hearts out.”
The Cavies played a strong second quarter, as neither team could get on the scoreboard.
The Cavies had a 67-yard drive in 16 plays, taking 6:23 off the clock. On fourth and four from the IC-13 yard line, J.Dixon could get just three yards and the ball was turned over on downs. It went to half 29-0.
The band and Cavalettes performed on the Memorial Stadium turf at halftime which spirited up the Carlinville Cavie crazies a tad.
Carlinville had a drive stalled midway through the third quarter on an interception, but K.Dixon responded two plays later intercepting a crossing pass, returning it 19 yards to the IC-33 yard line.
“It felt good to give the team another shot at the end zone and put a score on the board,” K.Dixon said.
The Knights added a 22-yard touchdown pass from Ricobene to Rowell and a Rowell 78-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter to extend to a 43-0 lead, leading to a running clock.
J.Dixon finished with 115 yards rushing on 31 carries. Dylan Chism, Garrett Campbell and Jarret Easterday also had positive yards.
Walton completed 11 of 18 passes for 69 yards. Easterday completed a pass for three yards.
K.Dixon had four catches for 31 yards; Jamieson had three catches for 20 yards; Emmons one catch for nine yards and J.Dixon one catch for five yards. Blake Richardson had two catches for four yards and Nick Walton had a catch for three yards.
Rowell rushed for 270 yards and three touchdowns for IC Catholic Prep. Ricobene completed nine of 17 passes for 142 yards and three touchdowns. Eatman had three catches for 53 yards.
IC Catholic Prep had an edge of total yards of 475-190, including 333-118 on the ground. Carlinville held a time of possession edge of 25:35 to 22:25. The Cavies were three of 13 on third down conversions and two of four on fourth downs.
Carlinville finished a 12-2 season with a nine-game winning streak after losing to Pana in Week 4. The Cavaliers outscored opponents 577-242 this season.
“This has been an incredible journey,” Easterday said. “I am very proud of our players.”
J. Dixon said he thought the Knights hit harder than what he was expecting.
“I didn’t expect them to hit as hard, “ J.Dixon said. “They were definitely the hardest-hitting team we faced all year.”
The team set a goal of playing 14 weeks, and so they did. That mission was accomplished.
“It was great to play 14 weeks after only playing two games last year (due to injuries),” said quarterback Adam Walton.
J.Dixon ended the season with a school record 3,113 yards rushing and 45 rushing touchdowns, 47 total touchdowns, extending the dynasty of running back to have come through the halls of CHS.
Easterday did not give a hint on who might replace J.Dixon next year.
“Carlinville has a rich tradition for running backs,” Easterday said. “I’m not sure you replace him totally, I think you replace him in small parts. We have some guys who can do that.”
Easterday said playing a team like IC Catholic was a unique situation.
“They play a tough schedule,” Easterday said. “They are able to maniuplate their schedule and we aren’t. That’s how it works. We have no excuses, no regrets. They are a product of their schedule. My hats off to them for taking that challenge.”