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Big plays continue, but Vandals remain winless

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Smith's career night highlights offense

By Andrew Harner

LITCHFIELD – For the second straight game, the Vandals gained more than 400 yards of offense, but it again wasn’t enough to keep up with Litchfield’s balanced attack.

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Purple Panthers quarterback Alex Hull threw for six touchdowns last Friday, and Litchfield forced several turnovers during a 46-34 win that keeps the Vandals searching for the first win of the season and knocks them out of postseason contention.

“We knew they were going to try to run the ball, so that kept our backers in the box and made us man-up in the secondary,” said coach John Stout. “We got heat on Hull a couple of times, but he beat our rush and found the open guy.

“The longer the quarterback has the ball against man coverage, the more likely someone is going to come open.”

Vandalia (0-5) kept pace with Litchfield for the first three quarters, trailing just 40-34 after scoring with 16.6 seconds left in the third, but after a quick touchdown and an interception, the Purple Panthers were able to grind down the clock with eight straight rushing plays.

That left the Vandals scrambling to get a quick score and recover an onside kick, but a big play couldn’t be found in the final 2:28, with Vandalia covering just 45 yards before time expired.

“Our offensive package is somewhat limited, and they made some adjustments in the second half to what we had success with in the first half,” Stout said. “We had to go to some things that we haven’t repped a whole lot.”

With the passing game vital to Vandalia’s success this season, that Litchfield (2-3) was able to contain it throughout the game gave the Vandals a different offensive look anyway.

After a 215-yard passing week, junior Collin Nestleroad was limited to 1-for-13 passing, with the lone completion going for 3 yards to senior C.J. Runkel on a screen pass on the final drive. The veteran Purple Panther secondary snared three interceptions.

“The difference is that they shut our passing down,” Stout said. “They have good skill people who have been playing since they were sophomores.”

Vandalia’s rushing attack did have its second strong game, however, gaining 418 yards on 47 carries, including six runs of at least 25 yards and a season-long 71-yard dash by Nestleroad.

Senior Dalton Smith had the best night among runners, gaining 188 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries, and Nestleroad had 149 yards and two scores on 15 attempts.

In the past two games, Vandalia has rushed for 662 yards – after gaining just 414 in the first three games – and as a team, crossed the 1,000-yard threshold against Litchfield.

Defensively, Vandalia allowed at least 40 points for the fifth time this season, but also was able to record more tackles for loss than in past games.

Sophomore lineman Kendrick Woolsey led the charge in the backfield with three of those tackles, while senior Seth Purcell had two (including a sack), junior Dillon Tate had one and sophomore Bobby Bradley had one.

“Kendrick is just a sophomore and is getting better each week,” Stout said. “He is hard to move, and now we need to get him firing off more, but he holds his own in there.”

Box score
Friday, Sept. 27
Litchfield 46
Vandalia 34
V: 14-12-8-0—34
L: 13-14-13-6—46

Scoring summary
First quarter
•10:49 – Alex Hull (LHS) passed to Colten Steele for 35 yards (Hull kick); Litchfield 7, Vandalia 0
•9:44 – Dalton Smith (VHS) rushed for 25 yards (Smith kick); Vandalia 7, Litchfield 7.
•7:07 – C.J. Runkel (VHS) rushed for 1 yard (Smith kick); Vandalia 14, Litchfield 7.
•2:35 – Hull passed to Austin Bryant for 12 yards (2-point conversion failed); Vandalia 14, Litchfield 13.
Second quarter
•11:19 – Hull (LHS) passed to Cole Grosenheider for 7 yards (Hull kick); Litchfield 20, Vandalia 14
•11:06 – Smith (VHS) rushed for 65 yards (Smith kick failed); Vandalia 20, Litchfield 20.
•6:11 – Collin Nestleroad (VHS) rushed for 2 yards (Smith kick failed); Vandalia 26, Litchfield 20.
•5:11 – Hull (LHS) passed to Grosenheider for 74 yards (Hull kick); Litchfield 27, Vandalia 26.
Third quarter
•10:33 – Hull (LHS) passed to Grosenheider for 34 yards (Hull kick); Litchfield 34, Vandalia 26.
•5:32 – Hull (LHS) passed to Bryant for 4 yards (Hull kick failed); Litchfield 40, Vandalia 26.
•0:16.6 – Nestleroad (VHS) rushed for 8 yards (Bobby Bradley rushed for 2-point conversion); Litchfield 40, Vandalia 34.
Fourth quarter
•8:47 – Conner Simmons (LHS) rushed for 1 yard (2-point conversion failed); Litchfield 46, Vandalia 34.

Vandalia statistics
Rushing: Smith, 14-188, 2 TD; Nestleroad, 15-149, 2 TD; Bradley, 6-42; Runkel, 10-36, TD; Robby Lott, 1-4; Team, 1-(-1). Team total: 47-418.
Passing: Nestleroad, 1-13, 3 yards, 3 INT.
Receiving: Runkel, 1-3.
Defense: Woolsey, 5 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 assists; Purcell, 5 tackles, 2 TFL, sack, 3 assists; Tate, 5 tackles, TFL, assist; Runkel, 5 tackles; Bradley, 3 tackles, TFL, 3 assists; Lott, 3 tackles, assist; Rodney Tedrick, 2 tackles, 4 assists; Tyler Dagen, 2 tackles, pass defended; Kolten Etcheson, 2 tackles, 2 assists; Wade Harre, tackle, 2 passes defended; Codie Jackson, tackle, 2 assists; Tristin Long, tackle, 2 assists; Tucker Willms, tackle, 2 assists; Nestleroad, tackle.
Record: 0-5

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LITCHFIELD – The breakaway speed of Vandals senior Dalton Smith was on full display last Friday at Litchfield.

Smith carried the ball 14 times for a career-high 188 yards and two touchdowns, using his speed on 65- and 25-yard touchdown runs, as well as on runs of 28 and 19 yards.

Included was a scamper on a fake punt that led to a touchdown in the waning seconds of the third quarter.

“I think we saw what Dalton can do when he is healthy,” said coach John Stout.

Smith suffered a concussion in the first quarter of week two’s game at Carlinville, and because of that missed week three against Staunton.

In his return, he carried the ball six times for 62 yards and a touchdown against Roxana, while also catching one pass for a 57-yard score.

At Litchfield, Smith was targeted on several passes but did not have any receptions.

So where does Stout prefer his fastest player line up on offense?

“Both,” Stout said. “We line him up wide in the gun package, and he’s also quick to the edge (from the backfield) on a sweep.

“We will try to use him both ways to get him as many touches as we can.”

Smith leads the team with 384 total offensive yards and four total touchdowns, and is also one of the conference’s most dangerous return men.

He should have plenty of room to run this Friday at Hillsboro, as the Hiltoppers have allowed 229.6 rushing yards per game this season.