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It is possible for a team with five wins to miss the football playoffs, but in the Vandals' case, even if they lose the final two games of the season, they should still get in.
A 42-8 drubbing of Southwestern last Friday night – led by four touchdowns by Ryan Ambuehl and a career-high 196 yards from senior Levi Ulmer – gave the Vandals their fifth win, and if historical trends continue, that will be enough for Vandalia to qualify.
“It feels good for our kids," said coach John Stout. "They worked so hard in the offseason, and after we got beat on this field last year against Greenville to not get in, they made a vow to get back.”
Teams with five wins get into the playoffs based on playoff points, which are the total number of wins of all opponents.
At this point, Vandalia (5-2) already has 30, but that number would rise to 40 if Vandalia doesn't win again. Last season, Marquette Catholic got in with a 5-4 record and 40 playoff points.
Of course, the Vandals could just beat Pana (5-2) or Greenville (7-0) in the final two weeks to get six wins and an automatic berth to eliminate all the confusion – which is what Stout is hoping will happen.
“If you get the sixth win, there’s no doubt you get in," he said, "and you don’t have to go against a top-seed.”
That will be the message he will send to his team for the rest of the season, and if the defense continues to play as well as it has, Vandalia has a legitimate chance to improve its record.
Having allowed just 83 points all season – which is tied for 65th best among all schools in the state – the defense continued its torrid pace against the Piasa Birds, recording six sacks and picking off three passes, while allowing fewer than 10 points for the fourth time this season.
The defense was furious from the start, with junior Chase Woolsey sacking quarterback Steven Fritsch on the second play of the game, and senior Daniel Edwards recovering a fumble at the Southwestern 6-yard line on the next play.
Junior Luke Smith took a pitch two plays later to score, and Edwards got right back in the mix on second down of the ensuing possession, taking down J.P. Mueller for a sack.
“Daniel is not a real big guy on the defensive line, but he’s tough, quick and relentless,” Stout said. “He is a never-give-up guy, and he’s going to give everything he’s got.”
Ulmer broke open for a 42-yard run on the next drive and later ran for a score that was negated by a holding penalty. The Vandals would ultimately turn the ball over on downs at the 11-yard line, after a false start pushed the team off the 1-yard line and Hosick was sacked.
The false start was the second of five pre-snap penalties for the offense, but Stout does not believe that will be an ongoing problem, saying the problems likely came because Hosick has a much different cadence than Tim Ritchey, who was out with a concussion.
Stout said that Ritchey, a junior, should start against Pana on Friday.
Southwestern's offense picked up four first downs after Hosick's sack, and a questionable unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Vandals moved the Piasa Birds to the 27-yard line.
The Vandalia defense, however, stepped up again, getting back-to-back sacks from juniors Jeff Lucken and Alex Newsom, and an interception by Hosick.
The Vandals offense was stalled once again, but because a Southwestern player ran into Ambuehl as he was punting, Vandalia was given an extra 5 yards.
Facing a fourth-down-and-3, Stout decided to run a play, and Ulmer broke through for 4 yards. Four plays later, Hosick connected with Ambuehl for a 27-yard touchdown, and a 14-0 lead, with 6:46 left in the first half.
Hosick picked off Southwestern's next offensive play, and the 12-yard field was quickly covered, with Hosick running for an 8-yard score on second down.
Three punts were traded before the Vandals got their offense moving again, covering 60 yards in five plays, capped by a 12-yard run by Ambuehl.
Vandalia used more than half of the third quarter clock to score its next points, getting in 15 plays before Ambuehl broke through several tacklers on another 12-yard touchdown run.
During that drive, Ambuehl also converted on a fourth-down run.
“Ryan played a heck of a game,” Stout said. “He showed his speed and power. The good thing is that he is a junior, so we get to see him one more year.”
The Piasa Birds snuck in their only score following Ambuehl's touchdown, getting a 3-yard run from Walter Mitchell and a successful 2-point conversion to cut Vandalia's lead to 35-8.
Southwestern recovered an onside kick, but the Piasa Birds were unable to convert that into a touchdown.
Vandalia would gets its final score two drives later, when Ambuehl took a pitch 35 yards. On the previous play, Ulmer had a 23-yard burst.
A 42-8 lead did not stop the defense from playing with tenacity, however, as Woolsey and Lucken combined for a sack, and Newsom had his interception on the ensuing drive.
Rushing: Ulmer, 16-196; Ambuehl, 7-57, 3 TD; Hosick, 12-49; Smith, 9-34, TD; Newsom, 2-10; C.J. Runkel, 2-9; Wade Cowger, 1-(-1); Rodney Tedrick, 1-(-3).
Passing: Hosick, 2-6, 46 yards, TD.
Receiving: Ambuehl, 1-27, TD; Ulmer, 1-19.
Defense: Woolsey, 4 tackles (one assist), sack, sack assist, pass deflection; Edwards, 2 tackles (1 assist); sack, fumble recovery; Newsom, INT, sack, 4 tackles (one assist); Hosick, 2 INT, tackle, tackle assist; Lucken, tackle, tackle assist, sack, sack assist; Ulmer, sack, tackle, tackle assist for loss; Smith, 2 tackles (one assist for loss); Blake Mills, 6 tackles (four assists); Quenten Austin, 3 tackles (one assist).
Week 8 Preview
Time and place: Friday at 7 p.m. at Vandalia.
Last time out: Pana's stifling defense did not allow the Vandals to score during a 41-0 loss. Vandalia had just 117 offensive yards in that game, but Pana did lose several players from that defensive unit.
Trends: The Vandals have won three of the past five games against Pana, but they have the lost the last two. All-time, the Vandals are just 17-41 against the Panthers.
Quotable: Coach John Stout said, “They are good defensively (No. 2 in SCC), and have some weapons on offense. We are going to have to be ready to play.”
Last week: Vandalia defeated Southwestern, 42-8, and Pana defeated Litchfield, 35-14, last Friday night. On the season, both teams are 5-2.