After defying the odds and recording three straight wins — all on the road — Carlyle football coach Chris Birkner and the Indians got the official word Saturday that they were in the Class 2A playoffs.
On Sunday, Birkner got out his road map once again.
The Indians (6-3), fresh off a playoff clinching 38-14 win over Pinckneyville, will travel nearly 200 miles Saturday to Sciota where it will take on Sciota (West Prairie) (Bushnell-West Prairie Coop) in a first round playoff game.
“I had no idea where Sciota was located. All I do know is that its about a four-hour trip and north of Macomb,” Birkner said. “It’s a long trip but its where the IHSA assigned us to play. We’re just happy to be playing. It doesn’t matter how far we have to go.”
One of four Cahokia Conference teams to earn playoff bids along with Columbia, Red Bud and league champion Wesclin, the Indians’ first playoff bid since 2013 and 13th overall was in doubt following a week six loss to Wesclin (44-38) which dropped them to 3-3 for the season.
Clear even then that it would not have enough points to qualify for the playoffs, Carlyle needed to win its last three games at Salem, Flora and Pinckneyville to get an automatic bid with six wins.
“I told the kids that we had to win out. The last three games were all on the road, but they were games we could win,” Birkner said.
The Indians’ chances took a turn for the worse in week seven when starting quarterback Alex Huels suffered an arm injury in the first half of the Indians’ 26-20 win at Salem Since; junior Caleb Darr has filled in with five touchdown passes and no interceptions.
Darr led Carlyle past Flora (14-7) then had three touchdown passes in a 38-14 win over Pinckneyville.
Although knowing that they were in the playoffs following the win over the Panthers, Birkner and his team gathered Saturday to watch the IHSA playoff pairings show.
“The coaches and the kids we all met up, ordered some pizzas and watched the pairings being released. There were a few parents there too,” Birkner said. “As a football team we’ve been able to overcome some adversity this year. When you are able to that and achieve your goal that you have been working towards all summer and fall, its very special.”
Althoff scores impressive win in Houston
The Althoff Crusaders’ brief stay in Texas proved to be a successful one as they roared past Houston Christian 42-14 on Friday in their regular season finale.
The Crusaders (8-1), led by senior Justin Strong, built a 14-7 halftime lead then scored on their first four possessions of the second half to break the game open.
“The lights went off at the end of the first half and we had a 20 minute delay. We were up 14-7 at the half and after we went in and regrouped we came out and scored on our first four possessions of the second half,” Althoff coach Ken Turner said. “I thought the game would be closer. But sometimes things just get out of hand. We came out and played very well in the second half and were able to close the game out.”
The Crusaders were led by a brilliant effort by Strong. The SIU-Carbondale recruit was all over the field as he dominated in all three phases of the game. Strong rushed for 139 yards on seven carries and scored two touchdowns on offense. He added a pair of interceptions and contributed five tackles on defense and returned a blocked field goal attempt 108 yards for a touchdown on special teams.
“I thought we played well in all three phases of the game,” Turner said. “We were able to sustain drives and score touchdowns and on defense we were able to hold them to 14 points. Plus, we were able to get a special teams touchdown.
“I thought the trip to Houston was good. We were able to keep our minds focused on the game and not the trip. I thought we came out and played very well.”