By Anthony Jones
After an absence of over twenty months, fall football made a return to Illinois last Friday. In their first game back, Triad took on a Mattoon Green Wave squad that was coming off of a 2-4 spring season.
The visiting Green Wave wasted no time getting to work as they drove 75 yards down the field to set up a first and goal at the Knight’s nine yard line to open the game. Their hard work quickly went down the drain however as a high snap allowed Triad’s Sam Wheeler to recover the ball and put the Knights on offense.
Unfortunately for Triad’s defense, they did not have much time to rest as the offense fumbled the ball back on the first play of their drive. Despite great starting field position, the visitors were driven back by a series of penalties and a big sack by senior Kaden Marmon.
Still tied up in a 0-0 tie, both teams were looking for a spark early into the second quarter. Triad found their much needed boost. With just over 8 minutes remaining in the half, Roger Wolf found a way to create that spark for the Knights.
After backpedaling to his own 18 yard line to field a punt, Wolf quickly found a gap and quickly bounced out to the sideline. From there, he would race into the endzone untouched as he gave Triad the first lead of the game at 6-0.
The senior recounted his touchdown after the game, “I was backing up when I caught it and I just started taking off. I saw a block coming right and I saw another coming left, so I just bounced right and it was over. I wouldn’t have returned it if my guys weren’t blocking”.
After a missed point after try kept the score at 6-0, Mattoon went to work on offense. They quickly drove into Triad territory, but an interception by Rylee Hansen after trapping the ball with his feet ended the drive. The turnover bug affected Triad shortly after as well, as they fumbled the ball back two plays later.
Momentum began to shift however at the start of the second half. Mattoon quickly forced a punt on the opening drive of the game, allowing them to take over just into Triad territory. Thanks to a pass interference call, the visitors quickly marched down field and set up a short one yard touchdown for halfback Taeriek Grace. The following extra point gave Mattoon a 7-6 advantage.
After forcing another quick punt, the Jackson Spurgeon quarterbacked visitors went back to work from their own 17 yard line. Their drive did not take long as Spurgeon connected with a wide open receiver for a 54 yard touchdown to go up 13-6.
After missing an extra point of their own, the Green Wave kicked off and Colin Qualls produced a nice return for Triad as he brought the ball out to his team’s 40 yard line. The drive continued to go well as they neared Mattoon’s 30 yard line, but yet another fumble put the ball back in their opponent’s hands.
Following another stop by Triad’s defense and a nice punt return, the Knight’s offense set up at their own 45 yard line with just inside ten minutes to play. Quarterback Nic Funk started the drive with a pick of 12 yards on a pass to Juliano Cigliana. On the very next play, he completed a 34 yard throw to Wolf, who made a spectacular play by jumping in front of and over a Mattoon defender. Funk finished the drive off with a nine yard keeper and a Jake Ellis point after knotting things up at 13-13.
Both teams traded punts afterwards and Matton found themselves near midfield with just over three minutes to play. Sensing they needed a big play, Triad’s defense stepped up once again and forced a fumble from Spurgeon, which Max Skees scooped and scored for a 35 yard touchdown. Ellis booted another extra point to grow the advantage to 20-13.
Mattoon was still looking to tie things up on the subsequent drive as they were faced with a fourth and two on their own end of the field. Yet again making a huge impact play for the Knights, Wolf jumped a curl route and returned his interception to the Green Wave 5 yard line for good measure.
Wolf’s big impact throughout the game was a result of his swiss army knife role on the team that includes duties at punter, kick returner, defensive back, and split end. The senior said of his near constant presence on the field, “It’s exhausting, but I love it. Throughout every play, we get to make impacts like I did today.”
Putting the final ribbon on the cake, Funk found paydirt once again to give Triad a 26-13 win. That score held final, as the Knight’s twenty point fourth quarter was too much for the Greenwave to overcome.
“We’re really young, really inexperienced”, Triad’s Head Coach Paul Bassler said of the team’s early struggles they ultimately overcame.“I knew coming in that we were going to have some mistakes, but I really stressed trying not to. We were very fortunate to have as many turnovers as we had and penalties we had called against us to come out with a win. Going into the season I told everybody, we’re going to play really great defense, really great special teams, and then try to manage the offense.”
A key component of getting past their early struggles were some changes in their offensive formations, ““We went to trips some and we went to some shotgun. We started running the ball a little bit better. They took some things away, so I’m eager to watch film to see what they did to us to keep us from doing what we want to do” said Bassler.
Next up for the Knights is a trip to take on the Collinsville Kahoks. Coming off of a 13-6 win over Belleville East, the Kahoks present a formidable foe for Triad. The Knight’s coach says of the upcoming bout, “Next week, Collinsville is going to be really good. They return a lot of people off a really good team that we played last spring. They’re going to be all that we want at their place. They have a great defense.”