Vandalia makes playoffs for first time since '08

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Ulmer rushes for 1,000th yard during Vandals' sixth win, which earns automatic playoff spot

By Andrew Harner

On the night they were honored for their years of dedication to the team, several seniors made big contributions last Friday night to a 20-14 win against Pana, which gave the Vandals an automatic berth to the football playoffs for the first time since 2008.


“We told them at halftime, ‘Seniors, hopefully not, but this could be the last time you play on this field,’” said coach John Stout. “‘Think about all the times you have played on this field since fifth grade.’

“‘If this is the last game on this field, walk off with a playoff berth and be a champion.’ And they did.”

Senior Bryan Hosick intercepted a Max Mosely pass at the 22-yard line with about 20 seconds left in the game to stop a threatening Pana drive and ensure a Vandals victory.

On the previous play, senior Levi Ulmer rushed off the defensive line to sack Mosely for a loss of 9 yards, a testament to how well the defense had played all night.

Those players both scored touchdowns on the offensive side, with Hosick dodging defenders on a 28-yard run to open the scoring, and Ulmer putting his head down to rush through the defense on a 2-yard push in the second quarter.

Ulmer set up his score by rushing for five first downs on a 94-yard drive that came after a defensive stop at the 6-yard line.

“That was a big stop there,” Stout said. “We knew we weren’t going to shut them out, because they have too many weapons, but when you have two scores on them, you have the advantage.”

Pana faced a fourth-and-1 with 33 seconds left in the first quarter, and opted to run the ball with Avery Hrabak, who gained some of that final yard, but was left about 6 inches short of the first down after a tackle by junior Alex Newsom, who led the team with six tackles and who Stout said has been “steady” all season.

That was when Ulmer went to work, at times bursting past blitzers in the middle of the field to gain 50 of the 94 yards – including three separate runs of 11 yards each – to put the Vandals ahead, 13-0.

“They didn’t have an answer for him,” Stout said. “They couldn’t stop him.”

And while Ulmer was the one breaking through tackles, it was the offensive line that was opening up the holes for him to run through.

Stout said Ulmer has been able to gain so many yards – 1,001 on the season, including 692 in the past four games – because he has gotten better and because the offensive line, which has no seniors, has improved.

Pana would end the shutout about 4 minutes later, scoring on a 4-yard strike from Mosely to Jared McMillen. Hrabak punched in a two-point conversion to make the score 13-8.

Hrabak was in the game after replacing Garrett Claxon, Pana’s top rusher, who was injured during a play toward the end of the first quarter.

In front of strong blocking and after breaking a couple of tackles, junior Ryan Ambuehl scored a touchdown on a 40-yard run with 5:34 left in the third quarter to push the Vandals (6-2) ahead by two scores once again.

“This was a hyped game,” Stout said. “The kids responded well to the pressure. It’s more than the win – it’s how the kids responded.”

Pana (5-3) again scored on the next drive, with Mosely and McMillen again connecting, this time for a 10-yard touchdown, but senior Blake Mills blocked the point-after attempt to leave the score at 20-14.

Neither team threatened again until midway through the fourth quarter, when Pana converted three straight first downs to move into Vandalia territory.

On third down, senior Quenten Austin would juggle, but control, an interception, and even though he fumbled during the return, Newsom knocked the ball out of bounds to keep it with the Vandals with 6:14 left in the game.

Vandalia was able to run off some of the clock, with Pana not regaining possession until a punt with 2:22 left in the game.

Four passes would be tipped after Mosely faced pressure from the defensive linemen, before Ulmer’s sack and Hosick’s interception.

“It’s good for the kids,” Stout said of making the playoffs. “It’s something they will remember. It’s something they will never forget.

“It can’t be taken away from them now.”

The Vandals received six votes in this week's Associated Press Class 3A rankings.

Rushing: Ulmer, 25-151, TD; Ambuehl, 8-75, TD; Tim Ritchey, 16-43; Hosick, 5-25, TD.
Passing: Ritchey, 2-4 for 14 yards.
Receiving: Hosick, 1-9; Ambuehl, 1-5.
Defensive: Hosick, 6 tackles, INT, pass defense, tackle for loss assist, tackle assist; Mills, 4 tackles, PAT block, sack assist; tackle assist; Austin, tackle, INT, 2 passes defended; Newsom, 6 tackle, 2 passes defended; Luke Smith, 4 tackles (one for loss), sack, tackle for loss assist, tackle assist; Ulmer, sack, tackle for loss; Daniel Edwards, 2 tackles, sack; Jeff Lucken, sack assist; Wade Cowger, tackle, pass defense; Ambuehl, 4 tackles (one assist).

Week 9 Preview

Time and place: Friday at 7 p.m. at Greenville.

Last time out: Vandalia took a tough loss in last season's finale, dropping the home game, 35-28, keeping the Vandals out of the playoffs.

Trends: The Vandals have not beaten Greenville since 1999.

Quotable: Coach John Stout said, “They are the No. 1 ranked team in 3A, but we had them where we wanted them last year. Our kids believe we can play with them, and our kids think we can beat them. We’ll go over there, let it fly and see what happens. It’s a big game for our program.”

Last week: Vandalia defeated Pana, 20-14, and Greenville defeated East Alton-Wood River, 75-0, last Friday night. On the season, Vandalia is 6-2 and Greenville is 8-0.