Takin’ care of business in playoff football starts with takin’ care of the ball.
Stillman Valley did Saturday. Visiting Plano didn’t in their first-round Class 4A game between two evenly matched 6-3 teams.
Each team ran 52 plays out of its wing-T attack. The Cardinals put up 385 totals yards (340 on the ground) and the Reapers 332 (306 rushing).
Turnover-free host Stillman Valley scored 21 points off three Reaper turnovers — one interception, two fumbles — and claimed a 49-28 decision that advances them to the second round next week against the winner of Saturday night’s No. 8 Manteno at No. 1 Rock Island Alleman matchup.
This is the second year in a row Plano has been eliminated in the first round by the Cardinals, losing 35-10 last year.
“It sucks either way,” Plano standout DE/FB Trent Bowers said, taking little consolation in coming closer. “I just hate not going any further. We didn’t play mistake free.”
The hosts led 14-7 after long drives capped by QB Greg Gerardy’s 14-yard scoring run and running back Michael Bower’s 1-yard run on its first two possessions.
Plano’s Weslye Brown answered in between with the first of his three touchdown runs, capping a 68-yard drive from three yards out to tie it 7-all.
A Tyler Herlihy interception of a Brown pass gave the home team the ball on the visitors’ 34 and senior running back Brit Vernon scored the first of his three scores by taking a pitch and running it in from 11 yards out.
After Brown lost a fumble on the next Reaper possession, Vernon hauled in a pass over the middle from Gerardy and went 45 yards for a score.
Another long drive capped by Brown’s 1-yard plunge left it 28-14 at the half but after Plano’s opening third-quarter drive stalled at the Cardinal 9, Vernon ripped off a 72-yard scoring run to help seal it.
“That was nice getting the ball, looking up and seeing no one there because the line did such a great job,” said Vernon, who rushed for 117 yards, getting the ball more than usual because workhorse Michael Bower (17-47) was playing with bruised ribs.
“The pass was just play action. The quarterback reads it and throws to me or the wideout. We’re not a big passing team.”
Plano lost another fumble in the second half that led to Matt Stone’s second 9-yard scoring run for the Cardinals.
“You just can’t give a good team like that the ball,” said Plano coach Jim Green. “Our TD late in the half helped and we talked about coming out and putting up another one. We moved the ball but then stalled. I wish I would have called better plays when we got it down close. We didn’t have an answer for their offense.”
The game was played in nearly a punt-free one. Stillman Valley scored on four of five first-half possessions and punted just once. In the second half, the Cardinals scored on three straight possessions then ran out the clock on their fourth.
Because of the turnovers, Plano didn’t punt once.