The Effingham Flaming Hearts used a ground-and-pound attack to help defeat the Bulldogs of Mahomet-Seymour Friday evening 21-7 in an Apollo Conference contest.
“We’ve had guys that have been limited practice wise,” said Effingham head coach Brett Hefner. “We’ve been limited condition wise. Even the guys who have been there, we haven’t been able to get outside and practice. There were a lot of good things and a number of not-so-good things. It’s always good to have some not-so-good things to fix and still win.”
The Bulldogs threatened early, converting on both a 3rd-and-15 and a 4th-and-3 down deep into Hearts territory at the 22-yard line. But they stood tall on a 4th-and-6, holding the Bulldogs defense to no gain on the play and took over on downs after the Bulldogs ran 5 minute and 24 seconds off the clock on their opening drive.
The Flaming Hearts were able to move the ball, with running back Chase Woomer picking up a first down on Effingham’s opening drive.
Following the first down, quarterback Nate Thompson found wide receiver Tristin Duncan for a 32-yard gain down the right side to the Bulldogs 34-yard line. But the Hearts weren’t able to capitalize on the big play and turned the ball over on downs in Mahomet-Seymour territory.
The Flaming Hearts defense didn’t allow the Bulldogs to take momentum after the turnover on downs and forced a punt.
After the Hearts turned the ball over on downs in Mahomet-Seymour territory the Bulldogs threatened again after Mahomet-Seymour’s quarterback Braden Finch broke loose for 41 yards down to the Effingham 20-yard line.
Austin Herboth came up big with back-to-back sacks on the next two plays to force a 3rd-and-16. The Hearts forced a 4th-and-16 and came up with a big stop on a fourth-down pass to take over possession at their own 26 with four minutes remaining in the half.
Looking to get on the board before the halftime break, Thompson found Thompson on a 30-yard completion to the Mahomet-Seymour 38-yard line. Running back Trevor Donsbach picked up 14 to put the Hearts on the edge of the redzone.
The Flaming Hearts were unable to cash in, as a 4th-and-14 pass attempted for Duncan fell incomplete with less than a minute to go.
“When you’re trying to get in the flow of things, you can’t put yourself behind the chains,” Hefner said. “If you’re going and all of a sudden it’s 1st-and-20, you’re in trouble. We had only two guys up front offensively that ever played in a varsity football game, so we started three sophomores and a junior, so we knew there was going to be some growing pains there. We’ll take a win.”
Both teams went into the halftime break tied at zero.
Effingham went three-and-out to start the second half but got a big momentum booster when Gunnar Franklin picked off a pass down the left sideline.
Holes started to open up in the run game, as Woomer picked up 11 on a 3rd-and-5 and 13 more on the next carry for another first down.
Facing a 3rd-and-14, Thompson found Herboth for a 26-yard gain on 4th-and-6 before Woomer found the endzone from 11 yards out to take a 7-0 lead with 2:59 left in the third.
On the ensuing defensive sequence, the Flaming Hearts put to bed any hope of Mahomet-Seymour answering the score with one of their own, Herboth helped poke the ball free on a carry from Bulldogs running back Clay Hubble and was recovered by senior Kalen Reardon.
On a 2nd-and-10, Woomer picked up a 13-yard gain to the Mahomet-Seymour 30-yard line.
On a 3rd-and-12, Thompson found Parker Wolfe for a 23-yard gain before Donsbach punched it in from nine yards out to increase the lead to 14-0.
Finch was able to rip off a big run to the Effingham 29-yard line, deep into Hearts territory at the 14. Mahomet-Seymour was called for holding on a run that would’ve been a touchdown, instead the ball was moved back.
Zac Slifer came up with a big to make it 3rd-and-25. Wolfe made a great diving pass break up to deny the Bulldogs a big gain. On fourth down, the Bulldogs had a receiver open in the end zone, but it went through his hands to turn the ball over on downs and give it back to the Hearts with 6:01 remaining.
The Hearts were in no hurry offensively, and were able to pick up big first-down rushes from Woomer and Donsbach.
“[Woomer] had a few good spots in the first half, but was better in the second half,” Hefner said. “He’s a kid that hadn’t had a lot of reps because of coming out of basketball.
“I think we had six or seven starters coming out of basketball, but I thought as the game went on he ran the ball better, Trevor gave us some good stuff, and Keegan came in and got one at the end. Running back depth is a strength for us.”
Donsbach picked up gains of 20 and 13 before Keegan Baker punched one in from 10 yards out to go up 21-0 with 48 seconds left.
The Bulldogs were able to score on a 51-yard touchdown pass to Hubble to make it 21-7 with 23 seconds left.
“It’s hard. You haven’t played in 16 months and have no film other than last year’s film and you don’t know what they’ve changed,” Hefner said. “It’s hard from that standpoint, and we have a number of guys on that side of the ball that haven’t been with the full team, but I was pleased with the defense.”
But the Hearts recovered the onside kick attempt to thwart any thought of a comeback and earn the win.
Up next, the Flaming Hearts will host the Charleston Trojans.