By DAVE PAXTON
Editor and Publisher
The wind was blowing steady from the north on Friday as summer shifted to fall and the Albia Blue Demon football team prepared to play arch-rival Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont for their homecoming. Albia wound up taking the wind and kicking off to the Rockets in the first quarter.
It was a decision that may have determined the outcome of the game as the Blue Demons held the Rockets on their first possession, then methodically drove 65 yards behind the passing of Blake Chance and the receiving of Nathan Crall to score with 7:52 left in the first quarter. That 7-0 was never challenged by the Rockets, despite a heroic effort by quarterback Trey Moore, who played on one leg most of the second half. Albia won 27-7.
“I was really impressed with the way our guys moved the ball on that first series and scored,” said Coach Scott Farrington. “We worked hard all week with our offensive linemen stressing pass blocking and quarterback protection. We had a couple of freshman (Eli Beary and Jackson Pence) who stepped in to play on the offensive line and really performed well.”
When you looked down the line, both offensively and defensively, EBF had a substantial size advantage. In the end, Albia dominated the line of scrimmage, sacking Moore six times while the Rockets never laid a hand on Albia’s sophomore quarterback, Chance. And for the first time all season, the Blue Demons established an effective rushing attack both from the spread and from the stack I formation with Chance under center.
Jer McAninch had 71 yards and two rushing touchdowns, with a 47-yard touchdown run. Dawson Hermsen rushed eight times for 47 yards and Blake Chance had 18 yards, without a single negative rush, running a couple of times on designed quarterback plays and twice escaping the EBF rush.
“We were happy that we could run the ball effectively against their defense,” said Coach Farrington. “They have really active linebackers and Jer (McAninch) and Dawson (Hermsen) were able to read where the holes were opening up and pick up some good yardage.”
Moore, who averages over 60 yards per game, had just 13 yards in 17 carries, losing most of his positive gains on sacks. Ryan Richmond ran five times for 16. The defensive front wall of Albia, McAninch, Doug Flattery, Dawson Hermsen, Blake Stewart and in the second half sophmore Montez Ellis bottled up Rocket offensive linemen allowing the Albia defensive backfield to run wild. Luke Bossard wound up with 11 tackles, Hermsen nine, Shawn Good eight, Gage Wilson six and Beau Leshen and Flattery five each.
Remarkably, the Blue Demons used a stunting defense against a stable of great EBF receivers, shorting the defensive backfield by one most of the game. Albia limited Moore (who threw for 356 yards a week ago against Sigourney-Keota) to 168 passing yards on a 13-36 night and picked off two passes, one by Nathaniel Wynn and the last to Luke Bossard, who was in the position to intercept three other passes.
“We were bringing five against their offense all of the time and sometimes six,” said Coach Farrington. “We have a lot of confidence in our defensive backs to cover really good receivers.”
Chance was 11-25 and also threw two picks, one to Wyatt Klyn and another to Ryan Richmond.
On EBF’s first possession, it looked like they were controlling the luck of the Irish as Moore threw a pass that went through Bossard’s hands into the hands of 6’5” tightend Gabe Larkin, good for a 15-yard gain and a first down. But the relentless pursuit of Albia’s defensive line caused two incompletions and the Rockets punted.
Albia took the ball at the 35 and Chance hit Hermsen for 15 and connected with Crall for five.
Hermsen took the first handoff rushing, gained three but picked up a first down on a facemask penalty. Then Chance hit Crall for 28 and eight to the two before McAninch bulled in for the score. Gage Wilson’s kick made it 7-0 with 7:52 left in the quarter.
Beau Leshen got the first of his three sacks on EBF’s next possession, dropping Moore for seven and the Rockets got off a very short punt.
Hermsen took the hand off from the 37 and rambled 20 yards to the 17, but Chance underthrew on his next attempt and Richmond intercepted at the 10.
Bossard nearly picked off another Moore pass and the Rockets punted from their own 15 with 4:28 left.
Albia worked with another short field, starting at the EBF 30. Chance found Wilson open for 24 yards to the Rocket five and after two rushes, Chance hit Crall for the score. Wilson’s kick was good and Albia led 14-0 with 2:06 still left in the quarter.
The Rockets finally got some momentum going on offense with Moore hitting Olivas for 14 and Larkin for 20 to the 48. But Flattery dropped Moore for a 12-yard loss, Moore threw deep to Kalen Walker on the first play of the second quarter and the ball came off the junior speedster’s fingers and then Nathaniel Wynn intercepted with 11:44 left in the half.
Albia had its first three and out and punted to the Albia 41. From there, Moore engineered a 12-play drive that stopped at the 11 and went back five to the 16 where Olivas missed a 32-yard field goal.
Albia went three and out again and punted to the EBF 45. Moore found Klyn for 10 to the 35 and for 10 more to the 25, lost four on a sack by Shawn Good, but then threaded a pass to Klyn up the middle to cut Albia’s lead to 14-6. Olivas’ kick was good and Albia led 14-7 with 2:16.
A block in the back penalty erased a near 60-yard kickoff return from Crall, backing Albia up to the seven. Worse yet, Crall would be done for the night after aggravating a shoulder injury sustained in last week’s game.
Instead of pushing Albia back into their own endzone, the Blue Demons showed a remarkable stacked I running attack with Nick Scholtus gaining three, McAninch went nine for a first down and five more to the five before Scholtus ran out the clock.
Albia had the ball to start the second half and EBF chose the wind for the fourth quarter. The Blue Demons came out with Hermsen gaining 17 and seven to the EBF 37, McAninch picking up two and Chance converting a fourth down try with a quarterback bootleg good for seven.
He then took a play out of the Rocket’s playbook and hit fellow sophomore Blake Stewart up the middle for Albia’s third score. Wilson’s kick was true and the Blue Demons led 21-7 with 10:10 left.
Moore appeared hobbled with a nagging foot injury at the end of the half and his mobility was in question as they started their first drive in the third quarter. He threw incomplete on a fourth and four at the 42, Albia took over but Klyn stepped in front of a deep ball thrown by Chance and intercepted with 8:24 left.
Richmond caught an 11 yard pass and Albia was called for roughing, giving EBF the ball at the 32. Then Klyn ran for eight on the jet sweep and Richmond picked up a first down at the 48.
Moore completed a 13-yard pass to Larkin at the 34, but he was dropped for a loss of two and came up visibly hurting. He threw incomplete on third down but connected with Larkin for an inch past exactly enough for the first down at the Albia 24.
Then it became the Shawn Good show. The Albia outside linebacker dropped Olivas for a four-yard loss, then sacked Moore for a 10-yard loss on fourth down, giving Albia the ball back at the 34.
Chance scrambled for three, then hit Leshen for 12 to the 49. The drive fizzled with 11 seconds left in the quarter, Nick Heffron managed to pick up a bad punt snap and was flattened by EBF rushers, but managed to wobble a punt to the EBF 21 as the quarter ended.
The Rockets got the wind to start the quarter, but Leshen sacked Moore for an eight-yard loss to force a punt. Starting at the 35, Chance hit Wilson for what would have been a first down, but the ball came back on a holding call to the 20 and Albia punted to the EBF 47. Good sacked Moore for a loss of nine and two incompletions forced another punt with 7:36 left.
A 20-yard gain on a screen pass to Hermsen gave Albia a first down at the 46, but two runs by McAnich came up a couple of yards short of the first down and Albia punted with 5:57 left.
From their own 17, Moore hit Klyn for gains of 18 and 14 and found Isaiah Smith for eight, but Bossard intercepted on a deep pass and ran it back to the Albia 43. From there Albia went into the stacked I, converted a fourth and inches and handed off to McAninch on an off tackle play and the big senior raced 47 yards for the score. The kick failed, Albia led 27-7 and Thane Alexander came in for the Rockets’ final drive that ended on a failed fourth and eight attempt.
“I thought Blake (Chance) played as well as he’s played all season,” said Coach Farrington. “He’s seeing the field a lot quicker and making really good throwing decisions. Our linemen kept their defenders out of Blake’s face and he was able to get into a really nice rhythm with our receivers.”
Albia came through the game in pretty good health with the exception of leading receiver, punt and kickoff returner and cornerback Nate Crall, who reinjured his right shoulder. “Nate goes in for an MRI this week to see what’s going on there,” said Coach Farrington.
Central Lee is next for Albia and they feature an enormous offensive and defensive line. But the Hawks have had trouble moving the ball and have yet to win this season.
“Right now our guys are flying to the ball, better than we’ve seen in three years,” said Coach Farrington. “We hoping that continues against Central Lee and we can offset a considerable size difference.