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By TERRY GREENE
Mahomet-Seymour head football coach Keith Pogue knew his Bulldogs would have their hands full when they hosted the Mt. Zion Braves to open the 2012 season on August 24 at Frank Dutton Stadium. Mt. Zion came within one point of advancing to the IHSA state semifinals last season and returned one of downstate Illinois’ most dominating running backs. Mix in the fact M-S graduated 19 of 22 starters and the expectation was the Bulldogs would have to play near-perfect football to come away with a win. While the overall performance was filled with missed opportunities, the young Bulldogs made enough big plays when they had to and won the hard fought non-conference battle 19-12.
For those looking for early fireworks, it didn’t take long. While some of the overflow crowd were still looking for their seats or finishing their last bite of a pork tenderloin, Mt. Zion running back Austin Ray made his mark on the evening by taking a hand-off deep in the back field on the third play of the game and raced 69 yards to the end zone to put the Braves up 6-0.
On the ensuing kick-off, M-S tightened its belt and proceeded to march all the way to the Brave’s 17 yard line where the Bulldog drive stalled. Andrew Shroyer’s field goal attempt sailed to the left of the goal posts. It was the first of several missed opportunities for the home team, although none ultimately proved costly.
After the Braves were forced to punt on their next possession, M-S mounted another solid offensive effort as running backs Jordan Rock and Tyler Francisco combined for 56 yards to move the ball inside the Mt. Zion 10 yard line. On second and goal, Mt. Zion recovered a Rock fumble and the Bulldogs once again were denied critically needed points.
Sensing a shift in momentum, the Bulldog defense was called upon to stiffen and keep Mt. Zion off the scoreboard. The young M-S defensive line and linebackers delivered. Mt. Zion quarterback Sam Olson was sacked for a six yard loss by junior linebacker Daniel Roberson and a third-and-17 run by Ray went nowhere. Forced to punt, a host of Bulldogs poured through the Braves interior wall and partially blocked the kick. Another junior linebacker, Grant Farchmin, recovered the pigskin and the Bulldogs were in business.
A first-down pass fell incomplete, but then senior quarterback Andrew Roney found wide receiver Cully Day gliding down the sidelines for 25 yard pick-up. That was followed by Rock’s 8-yard scamper to the Mt. Zion 20 yard-line. On the next snap, Francisco found daylight around the left end and sprinted untouched to pay dirt, knotting the score 6-6 at the 7:58 mark in the second quarter. Shroyer’s extra point attempt was wide left.
In the second quarter, Mt. Zion mounted another scoring threat, moving all the way to the M-S 10 yard-line with less than three minutes to play in the half. But the Bulldog defensive line and secondary, after a four yard run from Ray, stepped up once again and denied three Olson passes. At a time when any points could have been the winning margin, the Braves came up empty.
Taking over on its own 10 yard line, the M-S offense shifted into high gear and marched 82 yards to the Mt. Zion 8 yard line. Francisco’s 56 yard run highlighted the drive, which also include a shifty 14 yard carry by Roney. But once again, it was close but nothing more on the scoreboard as Shroyer’s field goal attempt scooted left of the crossbar and both teams headed to the locker room tied 6-6 as the halftime clock expired.
Taking the second half kick-off, M-S ran out of downs on its first possession and was forced to punt. Rock’s booming spiral pushed Mt. Zion back to its own 41 where the Braves once again relied on Ray to chew up yardage and find holes in the Bulldog defense. But it wasn’t meant to be. After a holding call pushed the Braves into a first-and-19, an errant Olson pass was picked off by senior defensive back Matt Turner and 60 yards later M-S was on top to stay, 12-6. Going for two on the extra point attempt, the Bulldogs were denied when Francisco was stopped just short of the goal line.
Later in the third quarter, a 13 yard touchdown run by Francisco was negated by a holding penalty, but the speedster bounced back with a 25 yard sprint with 3:56 left to play to give the Bulldogs additional breathing room. After Shroyer’s extra point, M-S led 19-6 and the Bulldog faithful sensed victory was close at hand. But Mt. Zion wasn’t finished.
Ripping off runs of 16 and 29 yards, Ray carried the Braves once again deep into M-S territory. With 45 seconds left to play, Olson found tight end Jacob Haycraft in the back of the end zone for the score. Going for two, Mt. Zion was turned away when Bulldog defenders swarmed Olson and forced an incomplete pass.
With the final outcome still in the balance, sophomore Andy Livingston recovered an onside kick just inside M-S territory and Bulldogs ran out the clock for its first win in 2012.
Read more in the Mahomet Citizen