Pontiac now looking for home playoff game
It was a little tougher than desired but Pontiac finally put the pieces together and took care of business by overpowering Rantoul 49-7 in an Illini Prairie Conference football game Friday night at Williamson Field.
The Indians got off to a great start, but then fizzled in the first half. It got to be more of a contest than maybe anyone expected.
“It’s one of those games where you do worry, it’s an opponent that’s having a rough year and you worry the guys are thinking it’s going to be a cakewalk,” PTHS head coach Alan Kuchefski said.
It was Senior Night and the Tribe was taking on a team with only two wins. But Rantoul gave Pontiac fits throughout the first two periods. But things changed after the break.
“We played so poorly in the first half, that was the response I was hoping for from these guys,” Kuchefski said. That response was scoring four touchdowns in the third quarter alone. And, the Indians really had a chance to score three times in the final 30 seconds.
Pontiac’s parade of touchdowns on the night were scored by seniors. Austin Norman had three for the night, quarterback Ben Schuler threw for one and rushed for one, and Colton Clesson had one receiving. Trey Edinger ran in for one and Keegan DeLong got points for the defense with a pick-6.
Leading 14-0 a the intermission, Pontiac got the ball to start second half. Rantoul tried an onside kick but Eric Watson recovered it for the Indians at the Eagles’ 48.
Norman ripped off gains of 15, 15 and five yards on the first three plays, but the drive seemed to stutter a bit.
Facing fourth down, Schuler rolled out to his left, saw Colton Clesson and threw a scoring strike for a 17-yard touchdown. Carter Dawson’s conversion kick made it 21-0 just 2:24 into the second half.
Dawson was perfect on all seven of his PAT kicks on the night.
The defense, which did well enough in the first half, turned it up a notch in the third. Maycoll Ramos fumbled on Rantoul’s first play and Steven Lewis recovered for the Tribe at the RHS 15.
Norman raced 14 yards on the second play and Schuler called his pwn number on a quarterback sneak for the touchdown and a 28-0 lead 65 seconds after the previous score.
Pontiac’s defense really seemed to take over in the third quarter. It put the offense in scoring position the entire period.
Pressure was the key.
“Our front seven is definitely strong. I saw ‘Ooh (Lewis)’, he was right there putting on some pressure,” DeLong said. “If it’s not me, it’s ‘Ooh’ If it’s not ‘Ooh,’ it’s Austin (Waldschmidt). If it’s not Austin, it’s (Payton) Cramer. The line is just exceptional.”
Cramer came up with a fumble recovery with 1:52 to go in the third when Rantoul quarterback Angelo Brown was sacked and fumbled the ball at the Pontiac 40.
Schuler started the Pontiac drive with a 32-yard keeper. Norman finished the four-play drive with a 4-yard scamper and a 35-0 lead with 27 seconds to go in the quarter.
Then things got a little crazy for the Indians.
Brown dropped back to pass on Rantoul’s first play after the kickoff. He tried a screen and DeLong snuffed it out, caught the ball and raced 27 yards for touchdown.
“I saw ‘Ooh’ coming down, he was putting on a lot of pressure so I knew the quarterback was going to scramble either right or try to dump it off,” DeLong said. “Luckily, he dumped it off right in my vicinity (and) I grabbed the ball.”
It was 42-0 with 10 seconds to go in the quarter. Pontiac kicked off and Rantoul tried a trick play on the return. Brown was unable to bring in a lateral and DeLong pounced on the ball, giving Pontiac the ball at the Eagles’ 17 with two seconds left in the period.
Gavin Bauknecht ran for five yards before the quarter ended. With the end of the quarter came the end of the night for the regulars. Erika McDonald had a nine-yard gain to set up a first down at the Rantoul two. Edinger scored three plays later on a 6-yard jaunt off the left side.
Scoring so much gave the Indians an opportunity to get everyone able into the game.
“We were able to get a lot of people in the game, which is a lot of fun,” PTHS head coach Alan Kuchefski said. “The players who are toiling in anonymity all year, they’re on the scout team. The starters don’t get all these wins and all of their stats without the good look the scout teams give them throughout the week. To have a chance to get everybody out on the field was special.”
Pontiac got on the board quickly, but then had trouble moving the ball for most of the first half. PTHS got a three-and-out on the Eagles to start the game and took over at the RHS 49.
Norman took a pitch off the left side, cut to the middle and dashed to paydirt on the first play. The Indians led 7-0 less than two minutes into the game. But Rantoul didn’t cave in. The Eagles kept PTHS in check.
“The defense was playing fairly well for the first half, they weren’t performing as well as Coach (Buck) Casson would have liked, they were doing a good job,” Kuchefski said. “The offense was just not moving the ball. It came down to offensive linemen not knowing what their responsibility was.
“They gave us a different look up front last year so that’s what we prepared for. What they ended up giving us was different from that, but it wasn’t something we hadn’t seen before. Once we got that figured out in the second half, we were able to kind of take off offensively.”
For the seniors, it was a night to celebrate not only a win at home, but a victory to head into the playoffs knowing they should have a home game next week, as well.
For DeLong, who transferred to PTHS this year after three at Central Catholic, he felt it was nice to be part of the Pontiac program.
“I got to watch my brother play here and I’ve always been around Pontiac football, so finishing off my senior year is special,” he said. “It’s something I never would have imagined being able to experience and I love this team. It’s a playoff team, it’s nice.”
Norman finished with 168 yards and three touchdowns to pace Pontiac (8-1). The Indians rushed for 269 yards. Gavin Bauknecht added 32, Schuler had 25 and George Smith tacked on 24 in the late stages.
Schuler was 4 of 11 passing for 57 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Norman completed his only pass for 34 yards to Cobi Parra, who had two catches for 49 yards.
The Indians outgained Rantoul (2-7) 360-210.