After a comeback win over the Knights of Breese Mater Dei in the season opener, head coach Brett Hefner and the Effingham Flaming Hearts find themselves in an unfamiliar position, 1-0 after Week 1.
Even in last year’s deep playoff run, they started out behind the eight ball after dropping the first two games to Breese Mater Dei and Taylorville, respectively, just as they did the season before.
“It was nice Saturday and Sunday,” Hefner said. “But once we got to Monday, we were done with that and time to get ready for Lincoln.”
According to Hefner, the team didn’t make any big changes when they headed back on Saturday, they just executed better.
“I think the biggest thing is for as many people as we had who were returning, we had a number of people that it was their first varsity game,” Hefner said. “The single biggest rate of improvement is between weeks one and two. I think when they went back on Saturday, the only thing that changed was they played more along the lines of how we thought they were capable of playing and executed better.”
In his first start at the quarterback position, Nathan Shackelford filled up the stat sheet, completing 15-of-23 passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns through the air and added 10 rushes for 36 yards on the ground.
“[Shackelford] made some plays,” Hefner said. “And he’d be the first one to tell you he missed some plays. He has a good understanding of what we are and what we’re trying to do offensively. He’s been around it and in it, so we can put a lot on his plate with multiple play calls and he’s probably going to get us in the right play.
“His ability to keep plays alive with his feet is big as well, because he can get out of trouble and still find players downfield. It was a good start for him and the part I’m excited about is that we thing he can be a lot better. He just knows football and has a grasp for the game and our systems.”
With the new quarterback under center, Tristin Duncan had quite the stat line himself in his first game as a junior, had eight catches for 171 yards and two touchdowns, picking up right where he left off of his astounding 2018 season.
“With Tristin, we know what we’re going to get from him,” Hefner said. “We need to continue to find ways to get him the ball. He’s a home run hitter for us, so we need to get him touches and figure out a variety of ways to do it.
“We’ve got a number of guys we can play out there. That’s one area where we do have some depth. We’re not real deep up front, but we have a lot of skill guys that can play. We need to keep continuing to develop other guys who maybe didn’t have catches in Week 1 that could be good players for us.”
The Flaming Hearts elected to go with a two-back approach, just as they did last season with Kendall Ballman and Logan Brown. Logan Brown had 17 carries for 67 yards and a score, while Chase Woomer rushed for 36 yards on 15 carries.
While the Lincoln Railsplitters went just 2-7 last season, they return an astounding 23 seniors.
“One thing that has kind of held true in my time at Effingham is that the team that’s won the league generally has the most seniors,” Hefner said. “They’re going to be a hand full coming in. They’re big up front and got some nice athletes.
“Their quarterback has a strong arm and has a couple nice skill guys at receiver. If we don’t come to play and play well, we’re going to have our hands full.”
The Flaming Hearts defeated the Railsplitters at Lincoln last season 36-0. The Railsplitters dropped its opener to Limestone High School of Class 5A 14-0.
In the latest AP poll, the Flaming Hearts have moved from ninth to eighth in the Class 4A state rankings.