The Effingham Flaming Hearts took an early lead and never looked back in a convincing 34-14 win over the Charleston Trojans.
“We got off to a good start, and that was big for us,” said Effingham head coach Brett Hefner. “You get off to a great start and the natural tendency is to maybe relax a little bit. Luckily, we were able to recover and piece enough plays together to get out with some points and a win.”
In Effingham’s first game last week against Mahomet-Seymour, it wasn’t until the third quarter either time got on the board. it was quite different this week.
Charleston received the kickoff to start the game, but turned it over to the Hearts on a tipped pass by the Charleston receiver that Parker Wolfe came down with just 45 seconds into the game in Charleston territory.
Effingham was able to capitalize when Trevor Donsbach ran it in for a 3-yard touchdown to take a 7-0 lead just three and a half minutes into the game.
The offense didn’t get much of a breather, as Wolfe came up big again; recovering a fumble on the kickoff at the Charleston 39-yard line.
Running back Chase Woomer rushed for a gain of nine on second-and-10, and converted the third down with a gain of eight the next play.
Following the first down pickup on the ground, quarterback Nathan Thompson found Tristin Duncan on a short pass that Duncan turned into a 22-yard gain down to the four-yard line with the help of a decimating block from Austin Herboth.
Woomer was able to punch it in on the next play for a touchdown, giving the Flaming Hearts a 14-0 lead with 6:41 remaining in the first quarter.
“You don’t get many opportunities for short fields and given chances to make things like that,” Hefner said. “So when you get them, you better take advantage of them. And as you play better people, you really better take advantage because you really don’t get many of them.
“Our guys do a good job, they really don’t know how good they can be. I hate it for them that they only have four guaranteed left. But we need to find a way to get a lot better in those four because it’s going to get tougher each week.”
Effingham forced a Charleston three-and-out on the following possession, but the Hearts went three-and-out as well on their next possession.
With the ball on the Effingham 13-yard line, the snap was offline, but Trevor Benavides was still able to get the punt off, despite defenders closing in on him for 22 yards.
This time, Charleston took advantage of the short field. Trojans quarterback Jack Nelson found a diving Sam Schuette over the middle on a big third down. Trojans running back Seth Howell punched it in from 11 yards out on the next play to cut the Hearts lead to seven with 2 minutes, 19 seconds left in the first.
The Flaming Hearts went three-and-out following the Charleston touchdown, but held the Trojans on the ensuing possession with a big stop from Herboth on third-and-1 to force a Charleston punt from their own 48-yard line down to Effingham’s 38-yard line.
Effingham was able to move the ball on the ground into Charleston territory, but a holding call on third-and-5 turned it into third-and-14. After an incomplete pass on third down, the Flaming Hearts opted to go for it on fourth-and-14 on the Charleston 36-yard line.
The snap went over the head of Thompson, which he was able to corral, but the pass fell incomplete, turning it over on downs.
“We’ve still got some inexperience in some spots,” Hefner said. “We have not gotten to the point yet where we can recover from being first-and-20, second-and-15. We aren’t there yet.
But the defense for Effingham stood strong, forcing a three-and-out. The snap on the Charleston punt was off the mark and Benavides came up with the punter-on-punter tackle at Charleston’s 39.
Thompson found Duncan for a gain of 12 down to the Charleston 28-yard line. The very next play, Donsbach broke a tackle and ripped off a 28-yard touchdown run with 4:19 left in the half to increase the lead to 21-7 and went into the half with the same score.
Effingham’s Riley Arend was named Homecoming Queen, while Jacob Briggerman was named Homecoming King.
Effingham received the second-half kick off and looked to be marching down the field but faced a fourth-and-2 on Charleston’s 20-yard line.
But the Flaming Hearts’ pass rush remained lethal, with Logan Heil coming up with a big sack for a loss of seven yards to force a Charleston punt on fourth-and-17.
The Flaming Hearts carried the momentum to the offensive end, with Thompson finding Duncan on a 35-yard touchdown. The extra point was missed however, giving the Flaming Hearts a 27-7 lead at the end of three.
“We’re going to have to make plays throwing the football,” Hefner said. “We made a few plays, but it still wasn’t pretty. But I think it’s something good and something to build on. Nate did some good things and he needs to continue to build on those. You go into the game and you never know how someone is going to play Tristin.”
“You’re going to get someone up in his face with someone over the top, or get somebody off, or somebody in between. Early on I thought they were up. We established some things run-wise and I thought they backed off a little bit and gave us a chance for some shorter throws. You’ve got to find a way to get home run shots in. We got a couple tonight, but weren’t as clean as they have been. But they worked and we’ll use them going forward.”
Once again, Herboth came up with a big sack on third down to force another Charleston punt on fourth-and-19. Senior defensive back Shawn Cochran blocked the punt to set up the Effingham offense on the Charleston 30-yard line.
On the first play of the ensuing possession, Thompson found Duncan again for a 28-yard completion, with Duncan getting pushed out at the 2-yard line. On the next play, Thompson went play-action and found his brother, sophomore Connor Thompson on a 2-yard touchdown to make it 34-7 with 10:57 remaining.
Charleston was able to hang a touchdown on the board with just four minutes remaining, but wasn’t nearly enough, with the Hearts taking the victory.
With the win, Effingham improves to 2-0 on the season and will hit the road to take on the Mattoon Green Wave next Friday night before returning home to take on Taylorville the following week.