MONTICELLO – There’s really no other way to say it. Bloomington Central Catholic ran the ball down Monticello’s throat in their first drive of both team’s football openers at Monticello Friday night.
The eight-plus minute drive – 14 plays, all rushes – netted a 7-0 lead for the visiting Saints after running back Joey Slaughter rumbled in off the left side for a two-yard TD.
But that’s all the Saints got, as the Sages used their quickness and perseverance to adjust, respond and post a 20-7 win in the start of what will be a six-game shortened season.
“We did a little bit of adjusting to their formations, because they were overloading us on one side. We just had to get used to shifting our lineup and getting man to man,” said MHS coach Cully Welter.
“The way they mauled us on that first drive, I was just proud of the way our kids responded.”
In contrast to BCC, Monticello took to the air to almost immediately to cut the lead to 7-6. Junior quarterback Joey Sprinkle connected with Triston Foran for a 45-yard gain on the squad’s first play from scrimmage. Sprinkle followed with 20-yard completion to Hayden Graham, and shortly after ran it into the end zone on a six-yard QB keeper.
Sprinkle looked comfortable in the role, completing 9 of 12 passes for 164 yards and a touchdown. He also led Monticello rushers with 49 yards on 11 carries and two additional TDs.
Monticello took the lead in the second quarter on another quick drive that culminated in a 14-yard TD run by Sprinkle. It was an efficient effort that covered 52 yards and took less than a minute off the clock.
The Sages were able to shorten up their defense on a Saints team that didn’t even attempt a pass until the third quarter. Monticello used its quickness to make up for their smaller size, often blitzing speed guys from the end to catch ball carriers on the other side of the field.
Big defensive stops were the key in the second half, punctuated by sacks and tackles for loss at opportune times. For instance, after Central Catholic netted 30 yards on two penalties to get into Sage territory on one drive, MHS responded with a pair of sacks to force a punt.
“Jason Brown was in his first game at defensive end and he played well. Kaleb Reid, Jared Lockmiller, just a lot of effort,” Welter said.
Brown’s performance included five tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble.
“Overall, I thought our effort was outstanding defensively. I thought coach (Steve) Kirk called a really good first game for his first time as defensive coordinator. He did a great job. I thought our kids played with effort,” added the coach.
Adding to the defensive effort was Kolton Knuffman with two solo and 10 overall tackles, including two for loss and a sack. Chris Brown also assisted in 11 tackles for Monticello.
Sprinkle threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Foran in the third quarter, and Foran added the two-point conversion to give the Sages their eventual winning margin of 20-7.
For the Sages, Jacob Tackett gained 39 yards on the ground with just one carry. Among receivers, Foran netted 67 yards, Hayden Graham 29 yards, Jason Brown 24 yards, Chris Brown 19 yards, Hunter Williams 16 yards and Peyton Scott 10 yards.
Monticello travels to Prairie Central for the Sages second matchup this Friday. Welter calls the Hawks the “best team in the (Illini Prairie) Conference. That will be tough. They’re going to run a triple option under center, and they’ve got a huge quarterback.”