The Effingham Flaming Hearts used an early lead to help crush the Taylorville Tornadoes Friday in an Apollo Conference matchup, 48-6.
“We’re battling,” said Effingham head coach Brett Hefner. “We’re banged up. You got Mason [Hasty] trying to go, [Ethan] Huss trying to go. The effort that you get out of our kids. I’m proud of those guys, they’re fighting their tails off and trying to win a conference championship.
“They knew this was important, and you got guys out there who are dinged up. We’ve always been fortunate to stay healthy. After last year, this is a pretty big one.”
The defense stood tall early, with Mason Hasty recovering a fumble on backward pass from Caden Mileham. But the Hearts couldn’t capitalize after recovering on the Taylorville 17-yard line.
But the Hearts defense came up big once again by forcing a three-and-out.
Nate Shackelford looked for Tristin Duncan in the end zone, but couldn’t connect. However, Duncan drew a pass interference call. The Hearts were able to take advantage, scoring on a 19-yard touchdown on a designed quarterback run from Shackelford, breaking two tackles, to go up 7-0.
The Hearts defense allowed Taylorville into the red zone on the ensuing Tornadoes possession, forcing a turnover on downs at their own seven-yard line.
On a fourth-and-5, Shackelford found Cameron Kalber for a 31-yard touchdown pass to go up 14-0.
On the ensuing defensive drive for the Hearts, Logan Brown came up with an interception and returned it to the 15-yard line.
After a four-yard gain from Chase Woomer, Shackelford scrambled for an 11-yard touchdown to take a 21-0 lead going into the second quarter.
“Our guys get better and better as the year goes along and get more comfortable with what they’re doing,” Hefner said. “Our quarterback is pretty good. When things break down, to have that difference maker back there is big. You saw that a couple of times tonight. We’ve got guys that can make plays.”
The Tornadoes worked the ball into the red zone for the third time on the day, but forced another turnover on downs to stifle the Tornadoes offense once again.
With time winding down in the second quarter, Shackelford looked for Tristin Duncan on a crossing route, but the ball was batted into the air and picked off by Taylorville’s Cam Woodward and took it to the 21-yard line of the Hearts.
On what looked like a miscommunication defensively, Mileham found Ethan Mileham for a 13-yard touchdown right before the half. However, the extra point was missed, giving the Hearts a 21-6 halftime lead.
On Effingham’s first drive of the second half, they picked up a big gain on an unconvential play to say the least. Shackelford took a high snap from the 46-yard line, scrambled and the ball popped out while being hit. But it popped perfectly for Duncan to grab it and take it down to the Taylorville 17-yard line.
Two plays later, Woomer shook off three Taylorville tacklers to find the end zone from 15 yards out and go up 27-6 after a missed extra point.
“Being without Logan, [Chase] being able to handle the load is a big deal,” Hefner said. “When we do get Logan back, it’s going to be a big plus because he’s had so many reps. We don’t have to lean on Logan. He’s done a heck of a job.”
Caden Mileham found Ethan Mileham for a big gain on a screen pass on the following possession, working the ball down to the Effingham 15-yard line.
Jakob Logan came up with a big defensive play on a pass breakup in the end zone to force a fourth-and-7, but the Tornadoes were called for offsides. On fourth-and-12, Mason Hasty came up with a big tackle to force a turnover on downs.
The Flaming Hearts offense showed no signs of slowing down, as Shackelford found Duncan for a 15-yard pass before finding Duncan down the sideline for a 31-yard gain on a stop-and-go route from Duncan.
Shackelford found Jett Gillum for a 12-yard completion and was ruled just short of the goal line. Woomer was able to punch it in to take a 34-6 lead with just under two minutes remaining in the quarter.
Due to an injury, Caden Mileham was shortly sidelined, bringing in backup Sean Czajkowski. Facing a blitz from the Hearts, Czajkowski three the ball up for grabs and was picked off by Jakob Logan, giving the Hearts the ball at the Taylorville 26-yard line after a penalty by the Tornadoes.
However, the Hearts didn’t waver from their approach, with Keegan Baker taking a hand-off 15 yards for a touchdown before scoring on a seven-yard touchdown on the following drive to put the Hearts up 48-6, thus inducing the running clock for the rest of the game.
“We’re fortunate that that’s where we have some depth at some of our skill positions,” said Hefner.
Up next, the Flaming Hearts will remain on the road take on No. 6 ranked Mt. Zion for a chance at the Apollo Conference title on the line.