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Going into Friday’s game, Vandalia already knew it would be its final game of the season. The overtime loss to Pana on Oct. 16 had sealed the Vandals' fate and made it impossible for them to qualify for the playoffs. On Friday, Vandalia fought for nothing more than another win; they would be denied by Greenville, 26-7.
“I’ve always preached for the last eight years, ‘We’re going to have effort and intensity, and we’re going to prepare to win,’” coach John Stout said. “It didn’t change because we got eliminated from the playoffs.”
With the Comets at 8-0 going into Friday, most had Vandalia pegged to be out of the game at halftime and to be kept out of the end zone all night. Greenville had been lighting up the scoreboard all season, averaging more than 38 points a game, while allowing just nine.
Vandalia would not only be fighting Greenville, but also injuries and sickness on its own sidelines. Cory Bunker wore jeans with his jersey, as he had missed most of the week battling the flu. Matt Hoffman was also without shoulder pads for the final game of the year. Drew Stewart, who sprained his wrist against Pana, chose to fight through the pain and play the final game of his senior season.
“He wanted to play because it was his last game, and I thought he did well,” Stout said.
Fighting almost insurmountable odds, Vandalia’s defense held the Comets to their second-lowest point total of the season, and the offense managed to score a touchdown in the fourth quarter to keep from being shutout, something that had not happened to Vandalia in 20 straight contests, dating back to 2007.
“The kids came out here and kept up the main focus of our program and played the whole ball game,” Stout said.
Following a Vandalia three-and-out to start the game, it took Greenville just one play to go 66 yards for a score. The running back got the ball on a toss play to the right side and cut back toward the middle of the field, avoiding Vandalia’s secondary. The ball carrier would run in for the score in the left coner of the end zone after zig-zaging through Vandalia’s defense. The point-after was good ,and the Comets took a 7-0 advantage.
The Vandals' offense managed to pick up a first down on their next drive, but ended up punting the ball away.
Vandalia caught a huge break with six minutes left in the first quarter, when Will Cowger intercepted a Greenville pass and took it back to the Comets 15-yard line. The Vandals would give the ball back on the very next play when they fumbled.
“That would have been huge if we had taken it in and tied the game at seven,” Stout said.
A fumble put an end to the Vandals' next drive, as well. They had covered 45 yards on six plays before coughing up the ball. Greenville went up 13-0 on its ensuing drive.
Greenville scored again with two minutes remaining in the half. The touchdown put them up 19-0. The Comets went for two, but failed. They almost went up 25-0 with seconds left in the half, but a punt returned for a touchdown was called back on an illegal block.
Stout said the second quarter was the key to the game, as Greenville scored 12 points in 12 minutes.
The second half opened with Greenville swiftly moving downfield and into Vandal territory. The Vandalia defense made a stand inside the 30 and kept the Comets from scoring. The Vandals defense was much-improved in the second half, forcing Greenville into long-down situations and keeping pressure on the quarterback.
“I thought our secondary did a great job,” Stout said. “A lot of times [the quarterback] didn’t have time to throw. We were rushing four people and dropping four people. We sacked him a couple times and we got hands on some passes.”
The offense still struggled to convert once into Greenville territory. Tyler Vosholler was able to break several big runs, and Daniel Bell had big reception over the middle, but the Vandals' kept stalling.
Greenville would not be denied a touchdown on its second possession of the half. The Comets struck with a 24-yardline touchdown pass. The PAT was good and Greenville went up 26-0.
When the Vandals finally broke the goal line, there was just 7:20 remaining in the game. Stewart picked up his seventh touchdown of the season, in his final game.
The final seven minutes ticked away with Greenville bleeding the clock when it could. Vandalia was unable to get score again and took its third straight loss.
Stewart had 48 yards on the night. Vosholler had 104 yards on 18 carries. Marty Johnson was 1-for-8. His only completion was to Bell for 21 yards.
The Vandals dropped five of their last six after starting 2-1, to finish the year 3-6
Looking back on the season, Stout said he feels that the season turned on a handful of plays. If those plays had gone Vandalia’s way, they might be in a playoff game this weekend, he said
Even without playing in the final game of the season Bunker ends up as the Vandals' leading rusher for the season. He ran for 764 yards and six touchdowns. Stewart ran for 398 yards and seven touchdowns. Vosholler was close behind with 363 yards and two scores.
Johnson threw for 786 yards and eight touchdowns. He completed 51 of 122 passes and threw 12 interceptions. Bell was the team's top receiver with 23 catches, three touchdowns and 421 yards. Bunker had 12 catches for 211 yards and four touchdowns.
Will Cowger led the Vandals with 77 tackles, Jake Whalen had 72 and Aaron Coney had 68.