Cavaliers throttle Paxton-Buckley-Loda, advance to third consecutive state
IHSA 3A playoff
By Jackson Wilson
Despite having the higher ranking in Saturday’s Illinois High School Association 3A second round playoff matchup, the second-seeded Carlinville Cavaliers (by rule) had to make a two-hour trip up north to face off against the tenth-seeded Panthers of Paxton-Buckley-Loda (PBL). The Cavaliers were unintimidated by the hostile environment and got right down to business. Kyle Dixon scored six touchdowns on nine catches for 208 yards – all in the first half – and the Cavies silenced the host Panthers with a 40-7 victory. Dixon became just the third player in Illinois High School Association Class 3A playoff history to record six touchdowns in a single game. Five of those touchdowns were assisted on by Jarrett Easterday, who completed 22 of his 27 attempts for 353 total yards. With the win, Carlinville is elite eight bound for a third consecutive year.
“The line blocked great for Jarrett and he threw some great passes. It was just a great day,” Dixon said.
As it had done all season, the Carlinville defense applied a major dose of pressure to generate a boost of momentum for the offense. PBL was able to recover the opening onside kick, but quickly surrendered possession of the football following a Gavin Coplea pass that was intercepted by Chase Michaelis on just the third play of the game.
With solid field position at the Panthers’ 38-yard line, Jarrett Easterday found Dixon on 2nd and 9 for a 34-yard completion. Dixon attempted to find the end zone but stepped out of bounds at the 4. On 3rd and goal, Dixon played the role of the running back and bulldozed his way into the end zone for the game’s first touchdown. The Cavaliers failed on a two-point conversion, but they still held a 6-0 lead after just three minutes.
The Panthers recovered another Cavalier onside kick but were forced to punt after being held to a quick three and out. Dixon made a fair catch at the Carlinville 25 following a 59-yard kick by Keyn Humes.
Although the offense was enduring a major struggle, the defense did what it could to keep the Panthers in the game. Easterday was sacked for a seven yard loss but managed to recover. He hit Ambuel for a clutch first down completion of 15 yards, then Dixon for 12 more. This moved the football into Paxton-Buckley-Loda territory. The Panthers came on the defensive prowl again and nearly forced Easterday to throw an interception on a quick slant pass. Fearlessly, Easterday went back to the air and took a shot downfield to Dixon, who was breaking free from double coverage. The pass was perfect and landed right in the outstretched bread basket for a 47-yard touchdown. Matt Schmidt started his day off on a positive note and successfully converted his first extra point attempt. The PBL fans were stunned in disbelief as Carlinville went up 13-0 with 6:10 remaining in the first quarter.
The Carlinville defense quickly forced another three and out and kept the offensive coals hot. Will Walton made a 31-yard catch at the PBL 43 on the first play of the next drive. An illegal substitution by the Panthers moved the football five additional yards to the 38. The Cavaliers continued to move the football at a torrid pace. In the red zone, Easterday completed a 10-yard pass to Jake Ambuel after drawing the Panthers offside for another five-yard penalty. This set up another scoring opportunity for Dixon, who amazed the crowd with his “one of a kind” versatility and strength. The 200-pound senior hauled in a quick pass from Easterday near the right pylon, bounced off two PBL tacklers and dove into the end zone for his third touchdown in under ten minutes. Schmidt’s extra point made it a 20-0 Carlinville lead with 2:27 left in the first quarter.
Twenty-six seconds later, the Cavaliers were in the end zone again. Jeffrey Stufflebean recovered an onside kick that was fumbled by the Panthers at midfield. Easterday only needed two passes to complete the next scoring drive, including one that went 28 yards for another Dixon touchdown. Schmidt extended the lead to 27-0.
Dixon came alive on the defensive side of the ball on the next PBL possession. He intercepted Coplea and took the football all the way to the end zone. The touchdown was taken off the board due to an illegal block during the return. Dixon was still awarded the interception, and the ball was awarded to the Cavaliers at midfield.
Carlinville started the second quarter with three consecutive penalties. This forced Easterday to punt the ball away on 4th and 26. The kick traveled 42 yards and bounced out of bounds at the PBL 6-yard line. Logan Rosentreater batted down a pass from Coplea on 3rd and 8 to bring the Panthers’ punting unit back onto the field. Humes only managed to kick the ball 21 yards out to the PBL 29.
PBL managed to hold the Carlinville offense to another fourth down at the 10, but Easterday still found Dixon for another touchdown. Schmidt missed the extra point, but the Cavaliers had a 33-0 stranglehold on the game with just under seven minutes remaining in the half.
The Cavaliers forced another turnover on the kickoff but eventually turned the ball over on downs after a failed fourth down conversion at the Panthers’ 40. Carlinville continued to keep the PBL offense handcuffed. On 3rd and 7, Jordan Bressler sacked Coplea for an 11-yard loss on an all-out blitz. A battered and bruised Panther offense had no choice but to punt the ball yet again.
Easterday linked up with Dixon once more for a 62-yard touchdown. This was the final nail in PBL’s coffin. With a running clock set for the remainder of the game, Carlinville took an insurmountable 40-0 lead into the halftime locker room. The Cavalier starters were done for the day.
Easterday walked away from Saturday’s contest with 40 total touchdowns for his senior season and over 6,000 career passing yards. The Carlinville defense didn’t allow a single PBL first down for the first 20 minutes of the game. The Panthers finished with only six total yards of offense for the entire first half.
“Those kids [on defense] are underlooked because we score some points, but their effort and intensity in the first two quarters was just unbelievable,” said Carlinville head coach Chad Easterday.
The junior varsity Cavaliers were able to keep the shutout intact until the closing minutes of the fourth quarter. A bad snap on a punt attempt turned the ball over on downs to PBL inside the Carlinville 5. With 5:18 to go in the game, Gunner Belt put the Panthers on the scoreboard with a 3-yard touchdown rush. Humes came on for his only extra point attempt of the day and cashed it in.
Carlinville (11-0) will return home to CHS Athletic Field to face six-seeded Williamsville (10-1) in the Illinois High School Association Class 3A state quarterfinals on Sat. Nov. 10 at 2 p.m. Williamsville dismantled previously unbeaten Fairfield 42-16 in Fairfield last weekend.
“I don’t know much about [Williamsville] but they definitely have a good ball club and we will have to be prepared,” C. Easterday said.
Ethan Wallace is brought down after a short gain in the Cavies’ win over Paxton in the second round of the IHSA Class 3A football playoffs. Photo by Jan Dona.
Sydney Leonard leads the football team’s send-off for game two on Saturday. Photo by Cory Walton.