Hud Venerable thought he had seen it all during a distinguished coaching career that included a 14-year tenure at Normal Community.
What happened during the opening half of Saturday’s game between Lincoln-Way Central and Sandburg, however, was a first.
The Knights turned the ball over four times and had snaps sail over the head of their punter and place-holder.
The mishaps resulted in a 21-6 halftime deficit, despite the Knights defense not having allowed a first down to the Eagles.
“Your defense doesn’t allow a first down but you’re behind 21-6. I hadn’t experienced that before,” Venerable said. “We turned the ball over deep in our zone, too. I was disappointed. Throughout the years our mantra has been to not beat ourselves. Before you can be a good team, you have to know how to not beat yourself.”
Central became a much better team in the second half. So much better, in fact, it rallied to beat Sandburg 26-21.
Venerable, in his first year as coach at Central, made a change at quarterback, inserting senior Cale Hayes, a starter the previous two seasons.
Under Hayes’ direction, the Knights looked like a completely different offense in the second half. Hayes tossed two touchdown passes and, most important, Central didn’t turn the ball over.
“Cale led the rally,” Venerable said. “The offense really clicked and moved well in the second half. Cale competed hard for the starting job over the summer. He had a good summer. When he heard he wasn’t going to be the starter, he didn’t hang his head and never doubted himself.”
While Hayes led the rally on offense, the Knights defense continued its stellar play. Defensive end John Rubino, linebacker Bryce Gorman and safety Troy Furlong, all seniors, stood out for the Knights.
“The defense really got after things,” Venerable said. “They played great the entire game.”
Rich Central reward
Rich Central wanted to make a statement Saturday during its 44-0 win against Joliet Central. The Olympians racked up 346 yards of offense while limiting the Steelmen to just 83 total yards.
“It was a pretty complete performance,” Central coach Terrell Alexander said. “I’m most pleased with our poise. We had a couple of 15-yard penalties that were effort penalties. It wasn’t because we lost our poise.”
Defensively, linebackers Malik Fountain, Jeremiah Mitchell, Joseph Gordon and Naaman Logan excelled. Defensive ends Iyen Ogbomoh, Isiah Hardy and Michael Iloegbunam did a fine job of holding the edge against the Steelmen’s option attack. Alexander, though, would like to see his defensive linemen flex their muscles more.
“I’d like to see us fly around a little more to the ball,” Alexander said. “Our linemen need to be more physical, too. That’s something we’ll be working on. We have to convince these young men that they have to work even harder. They must have great practices every day.”
Player of the Week
Jacob Platt, of Andrew, is this week’s SouthtownStar Football Player of the Week. Platt, a senior quarterback, completed 20-of-26 passes for 290 yards and five touchdowns and also rushed for a score during the Thunderbolts’ 54-23 victory over Bremen.