Vandals fall just short at Southwestern

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By Andrew Harner

PIASA – Trailing 24-7 and having lost a fumble on the first play of the fourth quarter, nothing was looking promising for the Vandalia football team last Friday night against Southwestern.


But then the magic began.

The defense forced Southwestern to punt for the first time since the first quarter four plays after that fumble.

The offense then made a fierce comeback, scoring three times in six minutes to take a 27-24 lead.

It was another beautifully scripted ending for Vandalia, but with 1:27 still left on the clock, the game was far from over.

And the Birds weren’t planning to leave their homecoming game without a fight.

Southwestern’s quarterback Nick Skjerseth aimed two quick strikes toward the sideline and lofted a deep pass to a wide-open Michael Davis to set up the game-winning 6-yard run by Tyler Dunham just 36 seconds later.

Vandalia had 51 seconds to stage its encore, but it wasn’t to be, leaving coach John Stout proud but distraught after a 31-27 loss.

“Definitely (proud of the effort), but this is a tough one to swallow,” he said.

Junior Bryan Hosick was vital to the Vandals’ comeback, using his speed to return that Southwestern punt to midfield, and scoring on a 15-yard strike from senior Marty Johnson five plays later.

A bobbled return allowed the Vandals (4-3) to pin the Birds deep in their own territory on the ensuing possession, and the defense eventually recovered a fumble at Southwestern’s 24-yard line.

Johnson dropped the snap on first down, but he didn’t lose his composure and lofted a touchdown pass to Hosick. A 2-point conversion failed, leaving Vandalia behind 24-19.

Allowing Southwestern (4-3) to use just 23 seconds of game clock on the next possession, the Vandals were back on offense.

“Our guys played their guts out,” Stout said of his team’s effort.

After a false start, Johnson lost 14 yards on a sack, forcing the Vandals into a third-and-29 situation.

But Hosick would become the hero again, twisting through the air before falling to the ground with a 30-yard reception at the Southwestern 29-yard line. Later in the drive, he slid to make a fourth down catch at the Southwestern 4-yard line.

Junior Levi Ulmer would score his second touchdown of the game on the next play, and Hosick dove into the end zone behind lead blocker Blake Mills for the 2-point conversion that give the Vandals a 27-24 lead.

“Bryan played well,” Stout said. “He made a lot of nice catches, including the key big catch to keep the drive alive that put us ahead.”

A win would have given Vandalia a four-game winning streak and continued its much-needed momentum as it heads into the final two games against Pana and Greenville – which are both 6-1 – looking for enough wins to make the playoffs.

Southwestern made achieving that goal a bit harder for the Vandals by taking away the team’s run game in the first half, forcing Johnson to attempt more passes than he attempted the previous two games combined.

“They did a good job of taking the fullback game away from us and making us do some things we are not used to doing,” Stout said.

By taking Johnson out of his element, the Birds forced nine incompletions and one interception in the first half. Five of those incompletions likely would have resulted in or soon led to Vandalia touchdowns.

“We had a couple chances to score early in the first half, and we didn’t,” Stout said. “That came back to bite us in the end.”

After Quenten Austin – who was transported to the hospital with a right ankle injury at halftime – intercepted a pass on the opening drive, Johnson was unable to convert third- or fourth-down passes from the Southwestern 32-yard line.

Toward the end of the first quarter, first-, second- and fourth-down passes inside the Southwestern 15-yard line all fell incomplete.

“Early on, I thought we could have thrown for a couple touchdowns, but give them credit defensively for the first half,” Stout said. “They did some things that took us out of our game.”

Johnson completed seven of his 24 passes for 118 yards, marking his third 100-plus yard passing performance this season … Nate Henna’s 109 rushing yards gave the Vandals a 100-plus yard rusher for the third straight game … Vandalia is now 3-6 against Southwestern all-time … The Vandals converted three fourth-down attempts against Southwestern.

Vandalia High School's football stat leaders through seven weeks.

Marty Johnson: 43 of 92 (46.7 percent) for 689 yards, 8 TD and 7 INT
Levi Ulmer: 85 rushes for 471 yards (5.54 ypc), 9 TD
Nate Henna: 43 rushes for 353 yards (8.21 ypc), 2 TD
Marty Johnson: 47 rushes for 191 yards (4.06 ypc), 4 TD
Nate Henna: 17 catches for 295  yards (17.35 ypc), 3 TD
Bryan Hosick: 11 catches for 153 yards (13.9 ypc), 3 TD
Daniel Bell: 7 catches for 88 yards (12.6 ypc)
Marcus Mosley: 37 solo, 18 assisted, 55 total
Blake Mills: 34 solo, 16 assisted, 50 total
Daniel Bell: 29 solo, 16 assisted, 45 total
Levi Ulmer: 27 solo, 17 assisted, 44 total
Return yards
Bryan Hosick: 9 returns for 247 yards (27.4 ypr), TD
Daniel Bell: 12 returns for 143 yards (11.9 ypr)
Tim Ritchey: 9 returns for 113 yards (12.5 ypr)
Daniel Bell: 20 kicks for 846 yards (42.3 ypk)
Ryan Ambuehl: 14 kicks for 508 yards (36.3 ypk)
Daniel Bell: 15 punts for 447 yards (29.8 ypp)