The Van-Far/Community R-VI football team entered its home opener last Friday night with some adversity and question marks before kickoff against Bunker Hill, Ill.
While already knowing they would be without new standout wide receiver and two-way player Blake Crider due to an injury, the team found out on game day they would be missing another key player.
Clayton Heaton’s late sickness not only cost the Indians a two-way lineman, he also was scheduled to handle the team’s kicking and punting duties.
Add in the challenges of playing an unfamiliar team, the Indians struggled with the turnover bug and sloppy play through much of the first half.
Fortunately, they took a 12-0 halftime edge and completely dominated both sides of the ball in the second half of a 32-0 victory over the Chargers.
“We had a lot of mishaps that are easy to fix and that we shouldn’t be having right now,” said Van-Far/Community R-VI head coach Kevin Baldwin.
The Indians appeared like they were going to score early when Verlyn Johnson recovered a fumble on the Chargers’ 15. Unfortunately, quarterback Eric Hombs’ pass went off the hands of wide receiver Logan Wilson on two straight plays in the end zone.
On defense, Indians defensive tackle Dayton Sanders provided a big hit on Bunker Hill’s Evan Morris that forced Morris to leave the game in an ambulance with an injury.
The nearly 20-minute delay was followed two plays later with a three-and-out that ended in a poor punt, giving the Indians the ball on the Chargers’ 42.
Hombs picked up a 20-yard run on the first play that was followed four plays later by his own two-yard touchdown run.
A bad snap led to a failed two-point conversion and a 6-0 edge.
Verlyn Johnson’s sack on Bunker Hill’s next drive let to another Chargers’ punt but this time the Indians could not take advantage.
When Bunker Hill started another drive with 2:41 left in the first quarter, a completed pass ended in Case Stafford recovering a fumble.
Verlyn Johnson had two carries for 34 yards before a failed fake handoff was fumbled away in the red zone.
Bunker Hill tried some trickery on their next punt that would have given them a first down. Unfortunately, two forward passes and an ineligible man down field brought the ball back. The Indians took advantage by marching 66 yards on nine plays.
Hombs completed an 18-yard and 27-yard pass to Wilson on the drive. He also had his own 16 yard run before scoring from nine yards out. A fumbled snap on the two-point conversion attempt kept the score at 12-0.
Bunker Hill’s next drive started with Ben Cassaday having a sack and a tackle for a loss on the first two plays. Verlyn Johnson added another sack.
With 3:07 left in the half, Morgan Slatten had a hard 10-yard run and Hombs picked up 21 yards on the drive before he overthrew a wide-open Wilson in the end zone.
The Indians had 193 total yards of offense in the first half while Bunker Hill had just 17 total yards.
Verlyn Johnson started the Indians’ second half with a 10-yard and 21-yard gain.
That drive stalled on the Chargers’ 14.
In a strange sequence on Bunker Hill’s next possession, Van-Far defensive coach Jason Hall could be heard challenging two different players who were in position for an interception on the first two plays.
On the third play, Slatten accepted the challenge by picking off a pass and returning it 16 yards for the score and an 18-0 lead.
A little more than a minute later, Hombs returned a punt 67 yards for a touchdown. Verlyn Johnson’s two-point run pushed the lead to 26-0.
Cassaday’s fumble recovery with 3:54 left in the third quarter set up the next Indians’ score. Bryson Lay had a seven and 14 yard run before Cassaday scored from 14 yards out. A failed two-point conversion kept the score at 32-0.
Many JV players played the entire fourth quarter.
Though Lay later had a fumble, he also had a hard-nosed run for a 19-yard gain and added an 11-yard scramble. In the win, Cassaday stepped up and handled the punting duties.
“I was really happy with the way the young kids responded,” Baldwin noted.
Hombs finished the game by completing 4-of-12 passes for 56 yards. He also had 17 carries for 119 yards, two touchdowns, and one fumble.
Verlyn Johnson had six carries for 53 yards; Slatten added five carries for 28 yards; Wilson had two catches for 45 yards; Lay tallied five carries for 45 yards and one fumble; Cassaday added six carries for 33 yards and one touchdown.
The Indians offense finished with 56 yards passing and 269 yards on the ground for 325 total yards of offense. Their defense held Bunker Hill to just 23 total yards of offense.
The Indians host Louisiana this Friday at 7 p.m.