Erle Bennett proved to be as good a prophet as he is a football coach. Bennett, head coach of the Do or Die West squad, suggested Thursday that mistakes would likely turn the tide in Friday night’s all-star game at Porter Stadium in Hannibal. He was right.
With just seconds remaining, the West squad had the ball on the East 2, trailing 14-7. Just as it looked like overtime might be needed to decide the contest, a mishandled snap from center that was grabbed by the East’s Nicholas Weiman, a graduate of Quincy-Notre Dame, proved to be the game-deciding mistake.
“We had several turnovers, which I figured we would, and several mental miscues,” said Bennett, whose team lost three fumbles and had three pass interceptions.
Following a scoreless first quarter, a West miscue set up East’s first score early in the second quarter.
On fourth down from its own 23, a high snap sailed over the punter’s head. While the punter managed to beat the East rushers to the ball, he was tackled at the West 2.
East would take the lead on the very next play. The Illinois team’s two-point conversion attempt failed.
West would have chances to tie the score later in the second quarter. One drive reached the East 18 before West fumbled the ball away. On the next drive West pushed to the 11 before surrendering the ball on downs.
An East miscue on its first possession of the second half gave West the ball at the East 19. On a fourth down play from the East 24, Dalton Powell of Hannibal threw a touchdown pass to Darrion Sanders of Keokuk, Iowa.
Caleb Bieniek split the uprights with the extra point, as he did so many times as kicker for the Hannibal Pirates, to put the West on top 7-6.
An interception on a tipped pass deep in East territory would set the stage for the Illinois squad’s game-winning score.
Four plays after the turnover, Tanner Huddleston of Macomb threw a high, arching pass that Reggie Bratton of Jacksonville would haul in and then streak to the end zone.
The catch was a challenge for Bratton.
“The sun was in my eyes half the time and I just adjusted myself to the ball and caught it. After that I just used my speed to dominate,” he said.
Bratton was confident no one would catch him after the ball landed in his hands.
“Once I get in full speed no one will catch me,” said Bratton, who will run track in college and was playing his final football game.
Page 2 of 2 - “On the second score a kid just made a great throw and catch, and he (Bratton) is really, really fast,” said Bennett. “We made way too many mistakes on offense. Defensively I thought we played really well.”
Zachary Abney of Pittsfield/Griggsville-Perry ran in the two-point conversion to boost East’s leads to 14-7.
Following a pass interception gave East the ball at its own 49 with 1:45 to play, it appeared that West might have had its last chance. However, an East fumble was scooped up by Austin Kinead of Centralia which gave the West team new life and the ball at the East 25.
Pass completions by Gabe Vandenberg of Keokuk to Sanders (12 yards) and Jesse Arnold of Centralia (11 yards) moved the ball to the East 2 with 48.5 seconds left.
That set the stage for the fumble recover by Weiman, who was selected the East team’s defensive standout. The East’s offensive most valuable player was Bratton.
The West team’s MVPs were Sanders (offense) and Bobby Gruenloh of Palmyra (defense).
The experience was a memorable one for Bratton.
“We had great teammates. The coaches were funny and great. We only had four days of practice and we connected like that. We came out and got the win,” he said.
And even though Bennett’s team fell short, he too enjoyed himself.
“I had fun and really it was rewarding getting to meet all these young guys who are such great people,” he said. “If you ever worry about the future of our country just come to one of these things. You’ll figure out there really are a lot of good people that are going to be great adults leading our country.”