MOUNT CARMEL – In the moments following a heartbreaking two-point loss in the first round of the IHSA Class 3A Football Playoffs at Mount Carmel, Monticello senior Blake McDuffie addressed his teammates.

“I want you guys to work hard so something like this never happens again,” he said, referencing the 8-6 loss to the Golden Aces, members of the Little Illini Conference, located 155 miles southeast of Monticello. “I love you guys and I’ve had a great time.”

McDuffie and his teammates played their hearts out on a sun-splashed Saturday afternoon, but lost to Mount Carmel, who improved to 9-1 and will face Unity of Tolono in the second round on Saturday. Until a regular season finale loss, the Aces had been in line for the top seed in the playoffs, but because of that, fell to the #5 seed and were pitted against the 12th-seeded Sages.

The Aces took the opening kickoff and drove down the field and scored on the two-point conversion to take an 8-0 lead on a five-play, 74-yard drive that took 2:05 off the clock.

“I thought after that first drive, that defensively, we played really well,” said Monticello Coach Cully Welter.

Following that, the Sages mounted several drives, but the Mount Carmel defense always seemed to find an answer to stall the drive. Sages quarterback Drew Sheppard had his team primed to score on several occasions, including once where he was intercepted at the one-yard line.

“Offensively, we moved the ball, we just couldn’t cash in,” Welter said. “We would get close and then, we would fall short. It’s frustrating. You sit there as a coach and ask yourself what I need to do better because obviously it’s in my hands. You get frustrated with yourself and you get frustrated with the situation.”

The Sages defense was just as tough as Mount Carmel’s, forcing two interceptions and recovering a fumble. Each team threatened during the second and third quarters but the score remained 8-0 entering the fourth.

The Sages finally broke through with 7:30 left in the game. Sheppard shoveled a pass to classmate Spencer Mitze who scored from five yards out to cut the lead to 8-6. A two-point conversion would tie the game.

But Sheppard’s pass fell incomplete and it was up to the defense to make a stop. But quarterback Blayne Sisson handed off to running back Asher Kight time after time, eating up the clock and never gave the ball back to the Sages.

“I’m very proud of our kids,” Welter said. “They played hard and didn’t quit. This is a tough place to play and they gave it their all.”

Each team made 16 first downs but the Aces outgained the Sages 186-123 on the ground, although many came during the final, game-clinching drive. Sheppard was 21 of 29 through the air for 189 yards and the one touchdown.

Trey Welter was the leading receiver for the Sages, grabbing six passes for 71 yards. Wade Carroll had five catches for 48 yards, Luke Teschke had five receptions for 14 yards and Mitze grabbed four for 35 yards.

Tylor Bundy also sparked the Sages, gaining 61 yards on 14 carries. He also had a 67-yard kickoff return.

Mitze led the Sages with 11 tackles while Sheppard added nine and Bundy finished with eight.

Notes:

The game was the first ever meeting between the two schools, although Mount Carmel is familiar with the Illinois Prairie Conference. The Aces established a brif regular season week 4 series with PIC opponents from 2006 through 2009. All told, Mount Carmel is now 4-3 against the conference and beat St. Joseph Ogden in last year’s playoffs.

The website calpreps.com which projects the result of every high school football playoff game in the country, projected Mt. Carmel to win 38-24.

The game was played at Riverview Stadium – better known as “The Snake Pit,” and has been home to the Golden Aces since 1927 and features concrete bleachers and 126 steps on a steep hill. The 2,500 seat stadium was built as a racetrack in 1926. Prior to the start of the season, artificial turf was added. The Aces were 333-125-13 all time (.707) prior to Saturday’s game.

The Sages ended the season with a 5-5 record.

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