Monticello Sages end Cavaliers season

Monticello Sages end Cavaliers season

Monticello advances to first football state championship game in school history

By Jackson Wilson

The Carlinville football Cavaliers quest for unfinished business came to a bitter end on Saturday in the Illinois High School Association 3A state semifinal against the powerhouse Sages of Monticello. Both squads were undefeated going in but there could only be one winner. After falling short in six previous semifinal appearances, the Sages punched their first ever ticket to a football state championship game with a 40-14 win in front of their home fans.

Right from the opening kickoff, the Cavaliers were being hit with a whole new level of adversity and pressure. The weather was cold, the field was muddy and the Monticello home fans were unleashing an ear-splitting uproar in an extremely unforgiving hostile environment. Carlinville was granted first possession at its own 35 but quickly punted after a three and out. Jarrett Easterday slipped a bit on the wet grass but still managed to kick the ball out to the Monticello 31-yard line.

The Monticello offense didn’t waste any time getting on the scoreboard first with a  53-yard touchdown. Luke Rudolph’s extra point attempt sailed wide of the uprights, but the Sages had a 6-0 lead just four minutes into the game.

Disaster struck for the Cavaliers on the next drive. The football took a bad bounce and squirted away from Kyle Dixon during the kickoff, leading to poor starting field position at the Carlinville 10. The Sages’ defense went right at Easterday and nearly forced him to throw a pick-six  interception on the first play of the drive. Just seconds later, Monticello forced a fumble and recovered at the Carlinville 18.

The Sages started their next drive with a holding penalty, but quickly avenged the miscue for a 24-yard touchdown strike. Monticello head coach Cully Welter was looking to go for a two-point conversion, but decided to bring Rudolph back on to the field for another extra point attempt after a neutral zone infraction penalty. This time, the 5’11” senior delivered, and the Sages had an early cushion of 13-0 with 6:15 to play in the first quarter.

The Cavalier defense held the Sages scoreless for the next fourteen minutes, but the offense was unable to generate the same consistency that it had produced on a weekly basis. Easterday only completed half of his passes (17 for 32) for 194 yards and threw two interceptions. Dixon, who had been running free from defenses all year, was held without a catch throughout the entire first half. He finished with 57 total yards on three receptions.

With four and half minutes to go in the second quarter, Monticello added another touchdown by capping off an 85-yard drive with a slick 16-yard quarterback keeper rush. Rudolph buried his second extra point in a row to give the Sages a 20-0 halftime advantage.

Victory was at the Sages’ fingertips as they received the second half kickoff but an incomplete pass forced another Monticello punt and gave Carlinville its biggest break of the season.

The Cavaliers’ offense moved the ball down into Sage territory, but Easterday was intercepted  at the Monticello 15. Devin Graham made a first down catch at the Sages’ 33. Braden Snyder then threw a quick slant pass to Luke Stringer, who danced away from the defense and ran the football all the way down to the Carlinville 27. After a seven yard gain, Snyder dropped another dime to Stringer – this time on a 20-yard touchdown connection. Rudolph’s extra point put Monticello in the driver’s seat, 27-0 with just under five and half minutes left in the third.

Dixon was flattened at the Carlinville 21 on the kickoff, and the Sages later stole the football right back on another fumble near midfield. Monticello then had a final  44-yard touchdown play along the sideline that was triggered by another quick slant pass. Rudolph canned his fourth consecutive extra point attempt. This gave Monticello an insurmountable 34-0 lead with just over 15 minutes remaining in the game.

Dixon finally broke the ice and got the Cavaliers on the board with an 82-yard redemption kickoff return for a touchdown. Matt Schmidt came on for the extra point and successfully kicked the ball through, cutting the deficit to 34-7.

Both teams added one more touchdown in the fourth quarter. In the game’s closing seconds, Carlinville senior stars Easterday and Dixon concluded their outstanding football careers with one last end zone hook-up. Schmidt, another senior, also finished on a high note and perfectly placed his final extra point attempt right down the middle.

“We knew the matchups were going to be tough throughout the day. No excuses. We didn’t catch enough breaks early on and then got ourselves behind the eight-ball. From there, the rest is pretty much what it is,” said Carlinville head coach Chad Easterday. “We got beat by a really good football team and my hat is off to them.”

Carlinville finishes the 2018 season with a 12-1 record. Monticello (13-0) will advance to face off against Byron (13-0) in the Illinois High School Association’s Class 3A State Championship game on Friday at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.

Ethan Wallace punches through a hole in the Sage defense during Saturday’s 40-14 loss to Monticello. Photo by Jan Dona.

Senior Tucker Hughes ended his high school football career Saturday in the semi-final against Monticello. Photo by Cory Walton.