ALTON – The football annals at all levels are dominated by players and coaches who demonstrate toughness and ferocity, but Vandalia coach John Stout broke the rules of those books, showing raw emotion following his team’s 13-12 comeback win against Marquette Catholic last Friday.
Working without a timeout and facing a 74-yard field with just over two minutes left in the game, the Vandals ran a nearly flawless 2-minute drill that culminated with a 6-yard touchdown catch by senior Matt Hoffman with 36.7 seconds left in the game.
“I’m just proud of our kids,” Stout said. “You get choked up thinking about it – all the stuff they did in the offseason, and to come down the field and do that. That’s why you’re in coaching.”
Not only did Hoffman snare the touchdown, he also was on the receiving end of a 35-yard pass that pushed the Vandals into Marquette Catholic territory and inflicted an even stronger sense of urgency into the team.
Vandalia nearly scored two plays later when Bryan Hosick was tackled at the 1-yard line, and the team had a brief scare when Tim Ritchey fumbled on the next play, losing 5 yards.
But the offensive line finished the drive with as much tenacity as it started the drive with, leaving quarterback Marty Johnson plenty of time to find Hoffman along the visitors' sideline.
Hoffman was far from the team’s lone hero of the game, though. Stout said he would have to cut his game ball into eight or 10 pieces.
He mentioned the offensive line, senior Daniel Bell – who intercepted a pass in Vandalia territory with less than 10 seconds left in the game – and junior running back Levi Ulmer, who had 97 yards on the ground and recorded 10 tackles.
“Levi ... he’s a good, straight-ahead runner,” Stout said. “We put him back there, and he showed why he is one of our better running backs. He ran like crazy tonight.”
The Vandals played well in the first quarter, forcing and recovering a fumble at their own 13-yard line on the sixth play of the game to quench an Explorer scoring threat.
From there, Vandalia used 17 plays – half being Ulmer rushes – and nearly eight minutes of game clock to move the ball 82 yards downfield.
After being stopped short at the Marquette Catholic 5-yard line, the Vandals opted to kick a field goal, but Bell’s try was blocked.
The Explorers were unable to do any damage on the ensuing possession, and the teams would trade fumbles on the next three possessions.
After recovering the ball at their own 44-yard line, the Explorers quickly raced their way down the field, scoring on a 3-yard touchdown run by Derrik Starrett.
Bell was unable to keep the ensuing kickoff under control, getting the ball stripped from behind after breaking free, setting up Marquette Catholic at midfield.
Having predominantly been using the run, the Explorers lofted a pass to the end zone four plays later, but it was defended by Justin Rubin and would prove to be a turning point in the game.
“We hung on there and went down at the half 6-0, instead of 12-0 or 13-0,” Stout said. “That was big to our kids, because we knew we were getting the ball to start the second half.”
Marquette Catholic tried some trickery to open the second half, booting an onside kick, but Stout was expecting it and made sure his players were, too.
“We worked on the kickoff all week,” Stout said. “I said, ‘They’re probably going to onside that to start the second half. Don’t be surprised.’
“Our guys were ready, we got great field position and our guys went and scored.”
Using Ulmer and junior Nate Henna to move 44 yards down the field, Johnson rushed the final 4 yards for a score. Bell’s extra point gave the Vandals a narrow 7-6 lead.
A strong kickoff return allowed the Explorers to set up the ensuing drive in Vandalia territory, eventually allowing Tyler Moore to cross the goal line untouched for a 4-yard score. Starrett fumbled the 2-point conversion try, leaving the Explorers ahead 12-7.
The action slowed for the next several possessions, with neither team waging a serious scoring threat until the Vandals scored the game-winning points.
Junior Blake Mills left the game at halftime due to a possible concussion and a cut on his chin. Stout said on Tuesday that Mills is probable for Friday’s homecoming game.
Vandalia’s next two games are at home against Litchfield (1-3) and Hillsboro (1-3).
Netting a win before homecoming was a big goal, Stout said, and now he hopes to string together the team’s first wining streak of the season.
“We’re going home for two, and hopefully, we can get those two and go from there,” he said
Vandalia High School's football stat leaders through the first four weeks.
Marty Johnson: 29 of 57 for 411 yards, 3 TD and 5 INT
Levi Ulmer: 39 rushes for 150 yards (3.8 ypc)
Bryan Hosick: 20 rushes for 124 yards (6.2 ypc)
Marty Johnson: 25 rushes for 106 yards (4.24 ypc), 2 TD
Nate Henna: 21 rushes for 104 yards, 1 TD
Nate Henna: 13 catches for 214 yards (16.5 ypc), 2 TD
Matt Hoffman: 6 catches for 68 yards (11.3 ypc), TD
Daniel Bell: 5 catches for 68 yards (13.6 ypc)
Marcus Mosley: 25 solo, 14 assisted, 39 total
Tyler Craig: 21 solo, 11 assisted, 32 total
Levi Ulmer: 18 solo, 13 assisted, 31 total
Daniel Bell: 19 solo, 10 assisted, 29 total
Daniel Bell: 11 returns for 125 yards (11.3 ypr)
Tim Ritchey: 8 returns for 101 yards (12.6 ypr)
Bryan Hosick: 1 return for 82 yards (82 ypr), TD
Ryan Ambuehl: 14 kicks for 508 yards (36.3 ypk)
Daniel Bell: 9 punts for 212 yards (23.5 ypp)