VANDALIA- With a 28-6 lead and 4:58 left in the third quarter, it seemed like the Vandals were well on their way to a comfortable win over conference foe Hillsboro. However, the Toppers had other plans.
A 57-yard touchdown run by Bobby Bradley on a Vandals late third-quarter drive seemed like that would be more than enough to ice the game, but a questionable holding call returned some momentum to Hillsboro.
“It was 28-6 and we made the touchdown run and got it called back; I sure didn’t see the penalty. And then they scored and I thought this could be the turning point of the game,” Vandals head coach John Stout said.
Touchdown runs of 67 and 44 yards run from Caleb Jackson and Gunner Lentz that were only minutes apart seemed to do just that, as the Vandals lead only 28-20 with 10:42 left to play.
However, the Vandals did not waste any time to restore momentum, as senior Bobby Moore returned the ensuing kickoff more than 70 yards for a touchdown to give the Vandals a two-possession lead with 10:29 left to play.
The crazy fourth quarter would not end there, as Hillsboro managed its second touchdown within the first three minutes, a 63-yard touchdown pass from Mitchell Reynolds to Jackson. A successful run for a two-point conversion cut the Vandals' lead to 35-28 with 9:36 left to play.
Vandalia’s defense would hold strong from there, forcing a Hillsboro punt and a crucial turnover on downs as the Toppers could not convert on a fourth and 6 in Vandals' territory with a little more than two minutes left to play.
A Vandals first-down rush by Bradley would prove to be enough to bring the hectic affair to an end, giving the Vandals the 35-28 win and evening up their record to 3-3.
“It seemed like it lasted two hours, our kids fought through it,” Stout said commenting on the crazy fourth quarter. “Our kids hung in there and got a stop when we needed It, got a first down when we needed it. Just a great effort by our kids all around. “
The South Central showdown did not start nearly as crazy as it ended, with both teams coming out to a slow start offensively.
Vandalia’s struggles to throw the ball down-field seemed like it would continue Friday night, as junior Richie Well threw an interception in his first two pass attempts.
Hillsboro took advantage of the good field position that resulted from the second interception, scoring on a 33-yard quarterback keeper from Reynolds to give the Toppers a 6-0 lead with 2:05 in the first. Hillsboro ran its patented run game most of the night, using a spinning quarterback and converging running backs to try and throw off the defense's focus.
“They are known for that.They went to that offense three years ago and they are hard to stop, and it seems like every game we have with them is like this,” Stout said.
The Vandals were able to get their offense going on the next drive. Well completed his first pass of the game, a 32-yard toss to sophomore wide receiver Marcus Zimmerman, giving them their best field position of the game at Hillsboro’s 25-yard line.
“They pretty much stopped us, because we were down here most of the first quarter,” Stout said. “That reception really helped us. It got us our first first down and showed the guys we could move the ball a little bit. “
Vandalia came just short of scrounging up its first points of the game, when a potential touchdown pass fell through the hands of a receiver, ultimately leading to a turnover on downs.
Hillsboro would give the ball right back, fumbling on its second play of the ensuing drive, giving Vandalia the ball back at its own 37-yard line.
Well continued his bounce back performance, hooking up with Zimmerman on passes of 22 and 16 yards to set Vandalia up deep in Topper territory. Junior Kolton Kaiser punched in an 11-yard touchdown from there, followed by a successful Boaz Haveman kick that gave the Vandals a 7-6 lead with 8:12 left in the half.
Another successful stand from the Vandals’ defense put the ball back in the hot hand of Well at the Vandalia 20. Senior wide-out Marcus Durbin did all his damage for the game on the drive, catching passes of 12 and 11 yards before hauling in a 54-yard heave from Well to extend the Vandal lead to 14-6 with 2:32 remaining in the half. The Vandals carried the lead into halftime.
Hillsboro forced a quick three and out to open up the second half, giving them the ball at its own 48. The Vandals’ defense held strong as well, forcing a three and out as well, setting Hillsboro up to punt.
However, Reynolds could not get the punt off for the Toppers, as Bradley and a crowd of Vandals defenders came up with a block that ended up in senior Eli Bowen’s hands and he returned the block 53 yards for the score, one of two scores for the Vandals' special teams Friday night.
“(Special teams had) two big plays. About three weeks ago we decided that we were wasting too much time in practice trying to get a punt return, so we said were just going to go with a block,” Stout said. “We got it and I think we ended up tipping another one, Eli showed a little speed and the guys got out in front. It was a huge play. “
Vandalia’s momentum carried into its next offensive possession. Well scrambled to his right before finding Bradley for a short dump off that he turned into a 55-yard touchdown, running through several Hillsboro tacklers. A successful PAT extended the Vandals lead to 28-6 with 4:58 remaining.
Well finished the game with a season-best 203 passing yards, completing 7 of 19 passes for two touchdowns and three interceptions.
“I thought Richie did a nice job. He hit Durbin for a big touchdown in the first half and a completion to Bobby for the touchdown,” Stout said. “He’s getting better and better every week. Overall, I thought Richie played a heck of a game.”
The Vandals would survive the wild fourth quarter ending it to even up their record at 3-3, finishing up another road trip 1-1.
Vandalia will look to pick up its fourth win of the season, as they host Piasa (Southwestern) for its homecoming game this Friday. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:30 and there will be a Hall of Fame induction ceremony at 6:10.
Vandalia compiled 282 total yards of offense Friday night–79 rushing and 203 passing.
Well completed 7-of-19 passes for 203 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. He also added 20 yards on six carries.
Marcus Durbin hauled in three catches for 78 yards and a touchdown. Marcus Zimmerman also added 70 yards on three catches, with Bradley rounding out the receiving corps, catching one pass for 55 yards and a touchdown.
Bradley also added 26 yards rushing on 12 carries. Kolton Kaiser saw his first action at running back for the season, rushing for 11 yards and one touchdown.
Defensively, Vandalia allowed 366 total yards offense–299 rushing and 67 passing.
Vandalia 35, Hillsboro 28
HI 6 0 6 16 28
VA 0 14 14 7 35
H- 33-yard touchdown run by Mitchell Reynolds (PAT no good), 2:05
VA- 11-yard touchdown run by Kolton Kaiser (PAT good), 8:12
VA- 54-yard touchdown pass by Richie Well to Marcus Durbin (PAT good), 2:32
VA- 53-yard blocked punt return for touchdown by Eli Bowen (PAT good), 9:00
VA- 55-yard touchdown pass from Well to Bobby Bradley (PAT good), 4:58
H- 67-yard touchdown run by Caleb Jackson (pass no good), :06
H- 44-yard touchdown run by Gunner Lentz (run good), 10:42
VA- 78-yard kickoff return by Bobby Moore (PAT good), 10:29
H- 63-yard touchdown pass by Reynolds to Jackson (run good), 9:36