Through their two-game winning streak coming in to Friday, Effingham coach Mike McDonald said the running game was still a concern for the Flaming Hearts.
Those concerns went away at Paris, as Effingham ran its win streak to three games by running all over the Paris Tigers 41-7 Friday.
The Hearts ran for 345 yards on the night, a season high. Five of the six Effingham touchdowns came via the ground game, led by Zach Miller's monumental effort in the first half.
Miller had touchdown runs of 24 yards, 96 yards and 21 yards in the first half, carrying the ball nine times for 171 yards before missing the second half with an injury. The rushing success continued even with him taking a breather in the second half, thanks to a team-wide effort.
"Our offensive line had their best game of the year, it was big for us to sustain some drives, we haven't done that for a long time," said Effingham coach Mike McDonald. "(Miller has) had a toe problem for the last two, three weeks, and he's fighting through it. We thought it was a perfect opportunity at the half to rest him (up 21). It wasn't worth the risk."
The win pushes Effingham's record to 3-3 and the Hearts are 3-0 in the Apollo Conference with two games left.
It sets up a massive showdown next Friday night with Mattoon, who is also 3-0 in the Apollo after the Green Wave bested Salem 56-29 Friday.
"Every week is the biggest game of the year, especially after starting the season 0-3," McDonald said. "Next week is the fourth week of what we call our new season, the conference season, and it's going to be our biggest game of the year. The winner's going to take control of the conference race with a week to go."
Things didn't start off well for Effingham, as the Hearts quickly punted on their first drive. Paris took the ball right down the field, scoring on a one-yard Hunter Morris touchdown run to put Paris up 7-0.
Myers took the ensuing kick across midfield and the offense got going from there. Zach Miller scored his first touchdown on a 24-yard run to tie the game.
The Hearts got pinned deep after a Paris punt, but Miller found his hole quickly and ran it all the way home on a 96-yard touchdown run, and the Hearts never looked back.
"We had some big plays," McDonald said. "We lost our center this week. With Khole (Moran) being out and Tritt Rush starting, he did a great job snapping the ball.
"We did a lot better job blocking, we got some double teams. Our backs did a good job reading the holes."
Miller got his third touchdown with 8:03 to go on a 21-yard run, and didn't see much action from there up 21-7. Wolff scored on a nine-yard keeper with 4:10 left in the second quarter, giving the Hearts a 28-7 lead heading in to the second half. Myers, Trent Barnhart and Avery Brooks carried the load from there as Effingham kept moving the ball on the ground.
Effingham's two touchdowns in the third kept the Hearts' momentum up. A long Marcus Robinson punt return in the third put Effingham at the Paris 10 and Wolff hit Hayes for a nine-yard touchdown run in the third, while Myers scored with 11:05 left on a two-yard touchdown run.
Paris threatened in the fourth, but a Dylan Depoister interception kept Paris off the board. Effingham took it all the way down the field, advancing the ball to the Paris one-yard line before kneeling out the clock.
The defense stepped up and did its job after the quick Paris touchdown, giving the Hearts' offense and special teams plenty of confidence to work with.
"Our offense being able to sustain drives is going to keep the defense fresher," McDonald said. "We were able to sustain drives and keep our defense off the field. I thought our special teams played very well and gave us good field position most of the night."
In addition to Miller's big night, Barnhart carried the ball seven times for 72 yards, Myers had four carries for 43 yards, Brooks tallied 23 yards on seven carries, and Billy Arndt had 11 yards rushing and 25 yards receiving.
Wolff was 5-for-12 passing for 67 yards and a score, and also carried the ball two times for 16 yards and a touchdown. Hayes caught three passes for 35 yards and a touchdown.
Travis Durbin led Effingham with 16 tackles, while Drew Vasquez totaled nine and Blaine Koester had seven of his own. Depoister and Matt Wohltman each had an intereception.
The team effort gave each of the Hearts' three units its best game of the season, eliminating many of the mistakes that have plagued Effingham even in its two-game win streak.
"We didn't turn the ball over, we didn't have dumb penalties," McDonald said. "Our offense being able to sustain drives is going to keep the defense fresher."
Effingham faces its biggest game of the season Friday night, hosting Mattoon (4-2, 3-0) for Apollo Conference supremacy.
Effingham 14 14 6 7 41
Paris 7 0 0 0 7
Rushing — Miller 9-171-3; Barnhart 7-72-0; Myers 4-43-1; Brooks 7-23-0; Wolff 2-16-1; Arndt 2-11-0
Passing — Wolff 5-12-67 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
Receiving — Hayes 3-35-1; Arndt 1-25-0; Robinson 1-7-0