PTHS moves to 5-0
Pontiac was able to accomplish some goals on Friday that could help create a strong second half to the season. By virtue of a 42-20 victory over St. Joseph-Ogden at Williamson Field, the Indians won on homecoming, garnered their fifth victory and are still unbeaten.
The importance of winning on homecoming is being triumphant with alumni watching and being able to enjoy the dance a little bit more.
“You always worry about homecoming from the distractions are going to outweigh the mental focus,” PTHS head coach Alan Kuchefski said.
The importance of winning the fifth game is securing a winning regular-season record and being in position to make the playoffs.
“We talked about how you can never take that fifth win for granted,” Kuchefski pointed out.
Being unbeaten means there’s a great chance of winning the Illini Prairie Conference. It also means the Indians have passed two tests against other unbeatens the past two weeks.
So, how did the Indians improve to 5-0 with its victory Friday night over the Spartans? Basically, all around. It was the defense, the offense and some big breaks.
Starting with the defense, Keegan DeLong probably turned the momentum around with an interception with six minutes to go in the first quarter.
St. Joe-Ogden was driving on the game’s initial possession, reaching the Tribe’s 21 yard line. Quarterback Keanen Swanson dropped back to throw a screen and DeLong was there to step in and grab the pass. DeLong raced 50 yards on the return to the SJO 20.
Ben Schuler gave Pontiac the lead when he hit Colton Clesson for an 8-yard touchdown to cap the short, 2:57 drive. Carter Dawson kicked the extra point. Dawson was a perfect six-for-six on PAT efforts on the night.
“That just kind of set the tone for the rest of the game,” said SJO head coach Shawn Skinner. “It seemed like that at one point, it didn’t matter what we did, it just worked out Pontiac’s way. That’s a credit to them.”
For the Indians, they were in the lead and not about to let things change anytime soon.
“That was big for us. He was smart, held his ground and made a great play for us,” Kuchefski said of DeLong and his pick.
As for what took place later in the quarter was another interception that led to a PTHS touchdown. This time it was a tipped pass at the line of scrimmage that Gavin Bauknecht snared to snuff out a Spartans’ drive and give the Tribe the ball deep in enemy territory.
“The defensive line did outstanding,” Kuchefski said. “(Peyton) Cramer got his hands on a couple of footballs.”
It took six plays for the Indians to go up 14-0. Austin Norman raced in from nine yards with 9:39 left in the first half to do the honors.
A 54-yard kickoff return didn’t matter as the defense forced a three-and-out and got the Indians the ball back.
Starting at its 20 yard line, Pontiac opened its longest scoring drive of the night with a pass play that helped make the drive the fewest in terms of plays.
Schuler connected with Cobi Parra for 48 yards on the first play. Another Schuler-to-Parra pass play went for 17 yards before Norman scored on a 12-jaunt on the fourth play of the drive. It was 21-0 with 7:31 left in the half.
The Indians were doing well to this point. Even though Norman scored twice on the ground, it was Pontiac’s passing that was opening things up.
“We talked early about hoping to be diverse,” Kuchefski said. “We’ll always test things out with the running game, but the way they were playing us, they were a little more stout in the middle and … we were able to throw the ball.”
Pontiac did have a lapse as the Spartans scored twice in a matter of 3:43. The first was Dwight Colvin’s 74-yard touchdown run on the second play following Norman’s second score.
A Bauknecht fumble on Pontiac’s next possession set up St. Joe-Ogden at the PTHS 34. Four plays later, Brayden Weaver shot through the middle for 18 yards and a TD.
All of a sudden, it was a 21-14 game. But the momentum the Indians gained from DeLong’s interception only waned a bit, but it wasn’t gone. This was proven when the Tribe got the ball back.
Pontiac put together a 10-play, 52-yard drive that took nearly three minutes off the clock and gave PTHS a score right before the end of the half.
Schuler hit Parra for 23 yards for the biggest play of the drive, and then the senior quarterback snuck in from a yard out on the next play for a 28-14 lead with 45 seconds left in the half.
The best thing for Pontiac was it was going to get the ball to start the second half.
Schuler hit Cramer for a 26-yard gain on the third playoff the third quarter, and then connected with Clesson for a 24-yard touchdown to cap the 70-yard drive just 2:09 into the second half.
Pontiac’s final touchdown drive was aided by a peculiar play and a fourth-down penalty.
PTHS was stuffed on its possession that started with 7:28 to go in the quarter. Dawson was back to punt and his kick was blocked. It was corralled by Schuler, who took off around the left end and raced 17 yards for a first down.
A penalty on fourth-and-18 on the next set of downs gave Pontiac a fourth-and-three. Norman darted eight yards to the right side for the first down. Three plays later, Schuler dumped a middle screen to Bauknecht, who rumbled 15 yards to paydirt that made it 42-14.
“We just couldn’t get stops, we couldn’t force the punts that we need … you know, you block a punt and it gets returned for (17) yards and a first down,” Skinner said. “It’s just one of those games.”
Pontiac allowed a late score but the game was long over by then. It was a strong effort on defense that drove the Indians to their fifth win to start the season.
“The confidence the defense got with those turnovers, containing their tailback,” Kuchefski said. “I thought he defense set the tone for us. The defensive played really well for us.”
Pontiac (5-0) collected 300 yards of offense with Schuler going 9 of 15 passing for 171 yards and three TDs. Parra had 88 receiving yards as five different players caught passes. Norman rushed for 98 yards as the Indians gained 129 on the ground.
Colvin rushed for 139 yards, of which 111 came in the first half, for St. Joseph-Ogden (4-1). Swanson was 8 of 16 throwing for 179 yards. He also had two interceptions.
Pontiac can secure an automatic playoff berth next week at Olympia. St. Joe-Ogden will face Prairie Central.