Huge IPC matchup of state-ranked unbeatens
Championship teams find ways to win and won’t allow a change in momentum last too long. Monticello took a huge step toward being a championship team by playing at such a level Friday night at Williamson Field.
The Sages did not let momentum shift to Pontiac for too long and was able to knock the Indians from the ranks of the unbeaten with a 42-14 win in Illini Prairie Conference play in a matchup of state-ranked teams.
“They’re a good team, they’re not 28 points better than us,” said PTHS head coach Alan Kuchefski, whose Class 4A ninth-ranked Indians fall to 6-1. “Some of that was a product of me feeling that we’re just close enough that maybe we have a chance, so I’m throwing the ball and doing some things that puts our defense in some bad spots.
“Credit them, even if we don’t make those mistakes, we still end up on the losing side of the scoreboard, but it’s not 42-14. We deserved to lose that game based on the way we played, but it wasn’t 28 points.”
And really, it wasn’t. It was a one-touchdown game after a Pontiac touchdown made it 21-14 with 22 seconds left in the third quarter. But an 81-yard kickoff return on the ensuing boot to restart the game set the Sages up at the PTHS 5 yard line.
Using the “Philly Special,” a halfback-to-quarterback pass play, Asher Bradd hit Braden Snyder for a 7-yard touchdown. What momentum Pontiac had gotten from its score at the end of third was gone.
“That one was a big one for us,” Monticello head coach Cully Welter said of the touchdown play.
Monticello scored two more touchdown in the fourth quarter as the game got away from the Tribe. Alek Bundy raced 15 yards up the middle with 9:14 to go and Chris Brown picked off a Ben Schuler pass and returned it 64 yards for a pick-6 with 2:50 left.
The Sages entered the game ranked third in Class 3A and were coming off six games that were decided by halftime. It looked like they were going to more of the same on their opening drive.
After no gain on the first play from scrimmage in the game, Monticello went to Devin Graham for a 22-yard gain, and then Snyder connected with Bradd on a slant for what became a 43-yard touchdown just 55 seconds into the game.
Pontiac wanted to be able use its line and establish the run. The Indians rushed the ball 11 times out of 14 plays from scrimmage on the first quarter. PTHS really had trouble moving the ball.
“That’s a good coaching staff they have, this is a game I was nervous about,” Kuchefski said. “They were doing some things and we tried to adjust. What they’re really good at is they find your weak spots and they exploit them. They coached a good game and their players played a good game.”
Pontiac was not able to run the ball effectively. The Indians gained 33 yards in the first half and had just 57 for the game.
“We’re fast on defense and we swarm pretty well to the ball,” Welter said. “I think that was the key to the game for us, not let Norman or Bauknecht get loose.”
The Sages were able to move the ball on the Indians, but the PTHS was standing firm for the most part, leaving the boisterous faithful in hopes that the home team might be able to make something happen.
Monticello put together an 89-yard drive on its first possession of the second quarter to take a 14-0 lead. Snyder hit Graham for a 17-yard touchdown to cap the drive. Luke Rudolph kicked the conversion. Rudolph and Pontiac’s Carter Dawson were automatic on conversion tries as neither missed.
It stayed 14-0 through the halftime break and after Pontiac’s first possession of the third quarter. Monticello had the momentum, and it appeared it was getting bigger as the Sages drove toward another score on their first possession of the second half.
Snyder connected with Bradd on a screen and the back raced to the goal line. He was corralled by a number of Indians in the final five yards. Pontiac’s Blaine Steidinger ripped at the ball and it got loose right at the goal line and the Indians recovered.
This might be the break Pontiac was needing, but the Indians got the ball inside its own 1 yard line — the back of the football was nearly on the line, some 99 yards, 2 feet and 11 inches from the other end zone.
Conventional wisdom might have called for a quarterback sneak to try to get out of there. Kuchefski opted for another play.
“It was one of those things where we were just running into a brick wall, it seemed like all the time,” Kuchefski said. “You had the ball at the one and you wonder if you could even get the ball out of the end zone. I said to our quarterback, let’s take a chance on (Colton) Clesson on the vertical.”
Schuler did just that, running play-action and lofting the ball toward the right sideline with Clesson running his route. Clesson caught the ball, beat the defender and raced to the end zone for a 99-yard touchdown, matching a school record.
The last time Pontiac pulled off a 99-yard touchdown pass play was in 1994 when Doug Gschwendtner connected with Jason Smith against Central Catholic at Hancock Field in Normal.
“Ben made a nice throw and Colt made a nice catch and run,” Kuchefski said. “That will be a big thrill for those guys.”
It brought a big thrill to the Indians, who all of a sudden had the momentum with a crowd that was brought back to life.
But, the good teams find a way to rebound and that’s what Monticello did, doing so with a 73-yard drive for the answering touchdown. Bundy covered the final 25 yards with a run up the middle that made it 21-7 with 3:33 left in the quarter.
Pontiac got its second touchdown after the teams traded three-and-outs. On third down after a face-mask penalty kept the drive going, Schuler hit Cobi Parra on the right side and Parra turned on the jets for a 31-yard touchdown.
It was 21-14 with 22 second left and the Indians had the momentum again — until the ensuing kickoff.
Pontiac finished with 261 total yards of offense. Schuler was 8 of 31 throwing for 204 yards and two touchdowns. He threw three interceptions. Bauknecht and Norman each rushed for 40 yards to lead the ground attack.
Monticello picked up 412 yards, with 209 coming on the ground and 203 through the air. Bundy rushed for 147 yards and Snyder threw for 196 on 15 of 33 passing with an interception and two TDs.
Pontiac (6-1) will look to bounce back at St. Thomas More next week. Monticello (7-0) will host Prairie Central next week.