Minutemen debut eight-man football
Bunker Hill junior quarterback Devon Ralston keeps his eyes downfield for a receiver while a couple of lineman look to keep the Pawnee pass rush in check. Enquirer Democrat Photo by Daniel Winningham.
By DANIEL WINNINGHAM
Enquirer Democrat managing editor
While many schools across central and southern Illinois opted to postpone Friday night football games, the game in Bunker Hill was still on Aug. 30.
The game of eight-man football, that is.
The Minutemen hosted Pawnee in a steady rain to begin their foray into a new version of the game.
The Indians, thanks to 22 first quarter points, coasted to a 38-18 road win.
“Although the rains came, the atmosphere was very positive,” said Bunker Hill High School Principal Matthew Smith. “There were several comments made about how great it was to for our athletes to wear a ‘Minuteman’ jersey again. In the beginning, some community members were skeptical about the 8-man concept. However, it was apparent on Friday night that the skepticism was replaced with an optimism that football is here to stay in Bunker Hill.”
“The heart and the fight in these kids never wavered, so I can’t fault the kids for that,” said Minutemen head coach Mike Burke.
Quarterback Devon Ralston made sure Bunker Hill wasn’t shut out. Ralston ran for a 52-yard touchdown in the first quarter, getting the Minutemen within 8-6.
“It was pretty fun,” said Devon Ralston, one of 24 playing this season for the Minutemen. “It’s a new idea in everybody’s heads.”
Seniors include Chase Trover, Garrett Heflin and Levi McCollum. Devon Ralston is one of 10 juniors. There are seven sophomores and four freshmen on the team in 2019.
Devon Ralston was not making his high school football debut — he played two years ago for the South Mac squad as a freshman — but this was his first time on the field as a Minutemen.
Evan Morris led the Minutemen with 66 rushing yards on 12 attempts. Ralston collected 60 yards on 24 attempts.
Keegan Ralston caught three passes for 67 yards, including 14-yard touchdown pass from Kyler Softley in the second quarter.
Rickey Woods provided Bunker Hill’s final touchdown, hauling in a 46-yard pass from Devon Ralston in the third quarter to cut the Indians’ lead to 30-18.
A couple of Pawnee kneel downs late in the fourth quarter sealed the Indians’ win.
Both teams gathered at midfield after the contest concluded to recite the Lord’s Prayer, which was led by Pawnee coach Kitt Thein.
Despite the opening night loss, Ralston is optimistic those on the team with leadership roles will rally the squad together the rest of the way.
“It’s a lot of hard work and practice, a lot of leadership stepping up,” he said.
Burke knows his team didn’t deliver an opening week victory, but remains optimistic.
“There were a lot of mistakes all the way around, players and coaches,” Mike Burke said. “We’re trying to build the future, but we set goals and we’re not wavering from those goals. One loss is not going to derail our season. We’re gonna keep plugging away
Bringing football back is a welcome addition for the community, Burke noted.
“It means a lot,” Burke said. “Of course, we would have liked to have given them an opening night win. Having something to showcase the community, the school and these young men from the school is really positive.”
“We had a few issues that we need to get worked out but we can always get back Tuesday and work those out,” Ralston said.
The Minutemen return to action Friday, Sept. 6, when they travel to take on Danville Schlarman. The contest begins at 7 p.m.
Of the 16 eight-man football teams in the state, there were 13 in action for the first week of the season.
“There’s a lot of work ahead, and these kids are ready,” Burke said.
Additional home games for the Minutemen are Sept. 21 (vs. Washburn Lowpoint), Oct. 4 (vs. Danville Schlarman), Oct. 12 (vs. Washburn Lowpoint) and Oct. 18 (vs. Metro East Lutheran of Edwardsville).
The Oct. 18 contest is both Senior Night and Homecoming.
All varsity contests on Friday evening begin at 7 p.m. The Saturday games start at 1 p.m.
Junior varsity contests will take place Monday, Sept. 9, at Pawnee and Monday, Sept. 16, home against Pawnee. Both JV contests kick off at 6 p.m.