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After a 2018 playoff run based largely on Dylan Cain running behind a huge, experienced line, the sense for 2019 was stop Cain, stop Chariton. Opponents might want to rethink that.

The Chargers beat Albia 55-14 on Friday, burning Blue Demon defensive backs for 284 yards and four touchdowns of passing from Graden Arnold to three receivers. And it was Albia’s ability to stop the run after a long drive featuring Cain running the ball that caused the Chargers to go to the pass.

Charger Nation sensed it was their night when Arnold threw deep over the middle to Payton Lavender, leading 14-7, and Albia’s safety was picked off by the back judge, letting Lavender scamper for an 84-yard touchdown.

Just about everything the Chargers did turned golden. Just about everything the Blue Demons did turned to ash, in part because of self-inflicted penalties.

“It takes a lot of heart to play football,” said Coach Justin Huber. “We need to find out what we’re made of this week in practice. We need to clean up a lot of little stuff, including some really dumb penalties.”

Coach Huber said the coaching staff was pleased with how an adjustment on the defensive line stopped Chariton’s rushing attack. “We went to a five-man front and they held a really good Chariton rushing game to 188 yards,” he said. “That’s the best rushing defensive effort we’ve had in about three years.”

The team was caught off guard with how good Chariton’s passing attack was. “It didn’t help that Nick Heffron (starting cornerback) was out,” said Coach Huber. “I can’t fault our cornerbacks much, though. They are very young and for the most part were in the right spots.”

First half

The Blue Demons weren’t without some highlight reel material. The game started with Albia’s Damon Sovern running back the opening kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown. David Fisher’s PAT kick left the Charger faithful sitting in stunned silence. It didn’t take long to perk the fans in red back up. Starting at their own 35, Cain had runs of 15, nine, seven, six, seven, two and one (a 13-yard pass to Lavender added another first down) to tie the game 7-7 with 7:30 left in the quarter.

Albia opened its first drive with a five-yard pass completion but punted on fourth and five. Chariton took over at the 44 and a new three-man front and aggressive linebacking play held Cain to a gain of zero and a five-yard penalty negated an eight-yard gain forcing the Chargers to punt.

Albia’s spread offense started out right on the second drive with Blake Chance hitting sophomore slot receiver Jackson Pence for 15 yards to the 40, but Albia was forced to punt after another short pass completion. Nathaniel Wynn’s 52-yard boomer came back on a penalty and his next punt gave Chariton better field position with 4:04 left in the quarter.

The Chargers left their patented rushing attack and Arnold came out slinging. A pass interference penalty gave Chariton a first down at the 34 and then Arnold hit Cain rolling out of the backfield for a short pass that turned into a 66-yard touchdown. Wyatt Chipp added the PAT kick and Chariton led 14-7 with 3:41 left in the quarter.

The Blue Demons’ spread, nearly all pass offense, finally started clicking after a kickoff return to the 42. Chance hit Luke Bossard for 16 yards, but Nick Wood slowed the attack with a sack on the quarterback. Chance got most of what he lost back with a 13-yard completion to Pence, then Blake Stewart caught an 11-yard pass for a first down at the 26. Wynn caught a pass to the 20 and Bossard snared a Chance throw for 14 yards for a first and goal at the seven as the quarter ended.

The timeout was perfect timing for Chariton to catch a breath as Albia started the second quarter with a run for no gain, two incompletions and a fumble.

Chariton took over at the 15, PJ Rich picked up a yard, then Arnold threw straight up the middle. As the backfield umpire and Albia safety Damon Sovern collided, Lavender went untouched 85 yards for the score.

Trailing 21-7, the Blue Demons’ offense clicked again with Chance hitting Pence for six and eight yards and Stewart taking a clever version of a statue of liberty handoff for 20 to the Chariton 40. Wynn caught a four-yard pass to the 36.

But the Charger defense stiffened again and Albia punted on fourth and six.

Chariton started at their own 17 and in the ensuing drive had as many yards in Albia penalties as they did in rushing or passing offense. The Blue Demons would be flagged for pass interference and two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. Jackson Curnutte would eventually catch a 32-yard pass from Arnold to boost the score to 28-7 after the Chipp kick.

The Chargers blocked an Albia punt, recovered at the 38 and Arnold threw 38 yards to Lavender for an apparent score. The ball came back on an illegal use of hands penalty against Chariton, so Arnold went to Cain for 13 and then hit Curnutte again, this time for 48 yards and a touchdown. Chariton led 35-7 with 2:00 left.

There was no surrender in the Blue Demons and Chance ran a brilliant two-minute offense, moving Albia from the 45 to the Chariton 10 with a five-yard pass to Pence, an 11-yarder followed by a five-yarder to Wynn, two passes for seven yards to Stewart, a five-yard pass to Wynn and then a nifty 11-yard scramble to the 10. But Rich stepped up to intercept with 6.7 seconds left, ending the threat and the half.

Arnold left the field with almost 220 yards of passing in one half of play.

Second half

Chariton went back to its running game to begin the third quarter and Albia stopped it after five plays. With 8:19 the Blue Demons took over at the 31, but punted after a seven-yard pass completion from Chance to Pence. Starting at their own nine, Arnold made about his only mistake of the night, hurrying a throw that was intercepted by Wynn at the 16.

Hunter Koehn sacked Chance for an eight-yard loss, but Chance came back with a 24-yard touchdown strike to Wynn. Albia trailed 35-14 with 4:53 left in the quarter.

Albia’s joy was short-lived as Lavender took the kickoff, cut left and sprinted 85 yards for the score. The Chipp kick made it 42-14 with 4:39 left.

The teams exchanged punts throughout the remainder of the third quarter. And as the fourth quarter started, Paul Stream, a former all-state linebacker for Chariton, was introduced to the crowd after returning from a tour of duty in the Middle East. Both sides of the field stood and cheered for Stream. In two plays, a 43-yard pass from Arnold to Lavender and a 12-yard run by Cain, Chariton owned a 48-14 lead. A missed PAT kick prevented the continuous clock.

Albia went three and out and punted with 10:20 left in the game. With mostly reserves on both teams playing, Ryder McGee became a featured runner for the Chargers, rushing three times for 16 yards and two first downs. A reverse by Alex Bates gained 14 and two plays later Bates ran the reverse again for a 10-yard touchdown. Chipp’s kick made it 55-14.

Albia had a nice drive with their reserves with Garin Grinstead completing five passes, three to Damon Sovern as time ran out at the 35.

Cain would end up with 93 yards rushing on 19 carries and three catches for 86 yards with three touchdowns. Lavender had three catches for 136 yards and a score, Curnutte had three catches for 63 yards and two scores. Arnold completed nine of 18 passes for 284 yards and four touchdowns.

Chance completed 21 of 43 passes for 180 yards and a touchdown. Wynn caught six passes for 58 yards, Pence caught five passes for 39, Stewart had five for 38, Sovern four for 30, Grinstead three for 16, Luke Bossard two for 29 and Chris Kilfoyle one for seven.

Shawn Good led the defense with 12 tackles, Bossard had eight, Doug Flattery six, Pence four and Stewart three.

The Chargers move to 1-1 on the season and prepare for their next non-district game at Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont. The Rockets lost 45-7 to Pleasantville. They are also 1-1. Albia moves on with a 0-2 record, hosting Sigourney-Keota (2-0).

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