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Entering Friday’s game against Aton-Marquette, Vandalia was coming off a big homecoming win. But the 1-2 Explorers stop the Vandals in their tracks, holding them to a season-low 12 points and forcing three turnovers. Marquette ran for almost 300 yards on its way to a 26-12 victory.
“We knew they were a good ball club,” coach John Stout said. “We knew they had some weapons. I think our kids played a whale of a game, save for a couple of runs, I thought we contained them pretty well. I thought our defense actually played a lot better than they did last week.”
Vandalia’s offense started the game off, by briskly moving the ball upfield but a pass down the sideline was intercepted and run back 60-yards for a score. Marquette took a 6-0 lead after a failed two-point conversion just 2 1/2 minutes into the game.
The Vandals' offensive woes continued as they almost loss a fumble on an option play their next time out on the field. On third-and-long, Johnson was able to pass his way out of situation, finding Daniel Bell across the middle for a gain of 19 yards. Vandalia was forced to punt just three plays later but Marquette was able to get a hit on Bell as he punted the ball away. The ball went out-of-bounds at the Marquette 38, a 9-yard punt. Bell was visibly shaken after the play, but he would return later in the game.
The defense stepped up for Vandalia after the punt, allowing just one first down before forcing a punt on fourth-and-23. Will Cowger was able to get to the quarterback for a sack during the drive.
Vandalia defense wasn’t as effective its second time out, as it allowed Marquette to move the ball 78 yards on 15 plays and chewed up more than five minutes of playing time. Marquette took a 14-0 lead after a 16-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-six, and then passed for a two-point conversation.
During Vandalia’s next drive, Cory Bunker was knocked out of bounds and crashed into the ground head-first. Bunker was shaken up of the play and would remain on the sidelines for the final seven minutes of the half. Bunker’s run, however, was good for first-down yardage and moved the Vandals up to midfield.
After burning a time out, Vandalia moved downfield getting, inside the 20 for the first time all night with 3:44 left in the second quarter. They didn’t spend much time in the red zone, though, as a holding call pushed them back to the 35. On the ensuing play Johnson found Bell for a 35-yard touchdown pass with 3:01 left in the half. Vandalia missed the point-after attempt, keeping the score at 14-6, and the half would end that way.
Leading the charge out onto the field for the second half was Bunker, who had watched the final minutes of the first half from the sidelines.
Marquette got on the scoreboard halfway through the third quarter on a 45-yard run. The Explorers took a 20-6 lead after a failed two-point conversion.
With three minutes left in the third, Marquette broke a 75-yard touchdown run on a counter play. The score put the Explorers up 26-6. Their two-point conversion attempt was broken up.
Bunker took the ensuing kickoff to midfield setting the Vandals up with prime field position. Johnson found Bell again to move the Vandals into striking distance at the 21, but on the next play, Johnson’s pass to the end zone was intercepted.
Bunker set the Vandals up again with 10 minutes left in the game when he took a Marquette punt back into Explorer territory at the 40-yard line. Another long pass from Johnson to Bell put Vandalia on the 25-yard line. Johnson would find Bunker four plays later on a 15-yard touchdown pass. Vandalia would fail on the two-point conversion, still trailing 26-12.
The final eight minutes would tick away, sealing Vandalia’s second loss of the season.
Johnson was 13-for-27, with two passing touchdowns, two interceptions and 156 yards. Vandalia was held to just 66 yards on the ground. Bell had 115 receiving yards on eight catches. Bell and Bunker had the two receiving touchdowns.
The Vandals defense gave up 296 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns. The Explorers passed for 66 yards on 10 passes. Marquette's defense forced three turnovers.
“You can’t win if your minus in turnovers and that plagued us tonight,” Stout said.
On Friday, Vandalia returns to the road. This week the Vandals will go to Litchfield. Last season, Vandalia beat the Panthers, 30-7. Vandalia rushed for 416 yards and four scores on the ground. The defense held them to 192 yards and recorded a safety.
“Our kids will regroup. They bounced back after the Carlinville loss,” Stout said. “They’ll bounce back and we’ll be ready to play this week.”
Litchfield (2-1) comes in undefeated at home. It defeated Roxana 42-0 last week on the road. The Panthers use a spread offense and have had pretty good success with it so far, scoring six passing touchdowns and running for 11. They’re pretty balanced, as they average about 170 yards on the ground and in the air each game. The Panthers come in averaging 31.5 points a game, while Vandalia is at 29.5 points.
Kickoff is at 7 p.m. in Litchfield. Litchfield High School is located a little more than an hour northwest of Vandalia.