As Drew Bell settled under center Friday for the Vandalia football team’s first series against East Alton-Wood River, the Vandals quarterback was faced with a defense that had a different look than what coach John Stout expected.
‘They came out in a 52 defense, with a rover back who would follow our motion,’ Stout said.
As a result, the Vandals went three-and-out, forcing Bell to punt for the first time this season.
But that was pretty much the end of the Oilers’ defensive success, as the Vandals improved to 3-0 with a 37-0 Homecoming win.
That first series would be the only time that Bell would have to punt for the Vandals.
Vandalia’s streak of 400-yard games came to an end – but not by much.
The Vandals totaled 390 yards on offense, with all but one of those yards being recorded via their ground game.
‘They didn’t push us into many passing situations,’ Stout said.
The Vandals were content to stick to their ground game, due to the success of their offensive line.
‘They were bigger than us (on the line), but our guys got in there and got their feet moving,’ Stout said. ‘Our guys came off the ball well.’
And when Mitch Whightsil wasn’t running through an opening on the left side, Bell was picking up yardage himself as the Vandals ran their midline option.
Bell ran for 107 yards on 13 carries, including a 31-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, and Whightsil finished with 91 yards on 11 carries, 33 of those yards coming on a second-quarter score.
Adding to the offensive attack was Jake Etcheson, whose 10 carries for 50 years included 5-yard and 9-yard scores.
For the third game in a row, the Vandals ability to take control of the game early and hold that control provided their head coach with an opportunity to get substitutes some considerable playing time.
The Vandals 59 carries were spread among nine ballcarriers, including Bell and backup QB Marty Johnson.
Friday’s total gave the Vandals 1,235 yards of total offense for the season. That mark for the first three games of the year is second only to that recorded by the 1997 squad (1,359 yards).
While the offense was piling up yards on Friday, the Vandals’ defense was holding the Oilers in check.
Whightsil, Coda Denton, Cody Cortelloni and Tim Dunahee each had three solo tackles, and Caleb Walton and Will Cowger had a pair of solos apiece.
Cortelloni, Dunahee and Cowger each had two tackles for losses, with those six being part of the Vandals’ total of 10.
His team’s performance left Stout pleased, for the most part.
The Vandals had only a handful of penalties, but two of those came at inopportune times.
‘We had a couple of illegal procedure penalties that came at bad times, including one at the goal line,’ Stout said.
That penalty pushed the Vandals back, forcing them to settle for a 23-yard field goal from Bell.
‘We left four points out on the field,’ Stout said.
In a 37-0 win, that may not seem like a big deal, but it was for Stout, who was at the time thinking about some tough contests later on in the season.
‘This was in a game that was 24-0 at the time, but not every game is going to be like that,’ Stout said.
‘In a tighter game, something like that might make a difference (in the outcome),’ he said.
That tighter game could come this weekend, when the Vandals play host to rival Greenville, which also comes into the game largely untested and 3-0.
‘I think we pretty evenly matched,’ said Stout. ‘It’s one of those games where it could come down to who makes the least number of mistakes.
‘We can’t have something like we had on Friday night – we can’t turn the ball over and we can’t have penalties in key situations.
‘If we’ve got the ball on the 1, we need to get it punch it in,’ he said.
With two evenly matched, undefeated teams who are big rivals, one of the major factors could be home-field advantage. The Vandals have that edge, but only because the game had to be moved from Greenville to Vandalia.
Greenville has no home games this season, because renovations to the Comets’ facilities are way behind schedule.
‘That can be a big difference in our favor,’ Stout said about the home-field advantage. ‘The crowds (for both teams) will probably be about the same, and that’s when it’s to your advantage to be playing at home.’
The Vandalia-Greenville rivalry has a long history, with the two schools competing as members of the Mid-State Conference prior to the formation of the South Central Conference.
The Vandals’ 19-13 overtime win over Greenville back in 1999 is the sole victory over the Comets since the two began competing as members of the SCC-East Division. This week’s opponent has won the conference title in three of the past four years.
As the Vandals prepare to meet Greenville in their first big contest of the year, Stout isn’t overly concerned about his squad coming out of the locker room for the second half a little flat, like they did on Friday.
Vandalia got off to a slow start in the third quarter, but Stout attributes that to an extended halftime, due to activities related to the school’s Homecoming celebration, and the muggy weather.
‘We’re really emphasizing to the players this year that they come out (in the second half) and finish out the game strong,’ he said.
While the Vandals will spend some time specifically preparing for what the Comets might do on Friday, Stout said he and his staff will concentrate more on what their players will do.
‘We’ll look at ways that we can get better. That’s the kind of approach that we’ve taken – we want to work on our game, concentrate on playing our own game,’ he said.
Notes: The Vandals recorded back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 1996… Friday’s Homecoming win was the Vandals’ fourth straight.