Central’s defense had not been a strength in the Cougars’ first three games.
But it stepped up big-time Friday as the Cougars ran their record to 4-0 overall and 3-0 in the Cahokia Conference with a 14-8 victory over Carlyle.
“We did a lot of practice on blitzes, pass rushing and everything else, and that helped us out. We were ready for it,” said Central junior lineman Kaleb Albers, who clinched the victory when he sacked Indians senior quarterback Alex Huels on a fourth-and-15 play from the Carlyle 30-yard line with 18 seconds to play.
“I think we’re getting better every game,” Albers said. “We knew they were a big offensive team, but we pushed them. We practiced for them, and we were ready.”
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Central had surrendered 86 points in its first three games — victories over Wood River (48-41), Salem (33-18) and Freeburg (42-27). Carlyle (3-1, 2-1), meanwhile, had racked up 118 points in wins over Nashville (34-27), Freeburg (48-27) and Red Bud (36-33).
Therefore, a high-scoring game was anticipated by coaches and many of the fans that occupied the bleachers and filled the space behind the fence surrounding the field.
Central coach Brian Short was glad a shootout never materialized.
“The main thing was we didn’t get burned deep tonight,” Short said. “That’s something we have not been able to (avoid). We’ve had that happen every single game, but tonight, we kept them in front of us and made them drive the field. It’s pretty tough for a high-school team to drive up and down the field if you don’t give up any big plays in the passing game.”
The Cougars were able to pressure Huels throughout the game.
“We challenged our D-linemen,” Short said. “We knew we would be in trouble if we had to bring the house to get pressure (on Huels) because then we would be one-on-one. I challenged our D-line to get some sacks without blitzes or stunts, and they did.”
Offensively, senior quarterback Trent Nunn was the focal point once again. Nunn rushed 29 times for 120 yards and completed 10 of 15 passes for 173 yards.
“The defense stepped up huge this week stopping a pretty good offense,” Nunn said. “I had faith in our defense that we were going to be able to stop them, and we scored when we needed to.”
Nunn hit sophomore fullback Christian Tehandon with a 20-yard touchdown pass that put Central ahead 14-8 with 8:36 to play. Tehandon plowed over Carlyle senior defensive back Tyler Siever at the 10 and raced into the end zone.
Carlyle drove to the Cougars’ 5-yard line on its next possession, but Huels’ pass to senior Nick Becker in the top of the end zone was knocked away by Nunn and junior Garrett Richter.
“Was I surprised by them defensively? Maybe a little bit,” said Indians coach Chris Birkner, who was pleased about keeping Nunn out of the end zone. “He was the leading scorer in the whole metro-east and we didn’t let him score. (But) they had enough weapons to beat us on a couple of other plays.”
Central’s other touchdown was a 20-yard run by junior Tyson Lobb in the second quarter. Carlyle moved ahead 8-7 on Huels’ 35-yard pass to Becker less than five minutes later. Tehandon finished with five catches for 89 yards.
David Wilhelm: @DavidMWilhelm