High School Football

Road weary Carlyle is last Cahokia Conference playoff team still alive

Four weeks ago, the Carlyle Indians were on the verge of having their postseason dreams come to an end.

After winning three straight then losing three in a row, they needed to win out to reach the six wins required to earn the automatic IHSA playoff bid.

All three of those must-win games were on the road.

On Saturday, the Indians will return home for the first time in a month. Following a 32-14 win at Sciota West Prairie in a first-round Class 2A playoff game, the 10th-seeded Indians (7-3) will host second-seeded and undefeated Westville (10-0) beginning at 2 p.m.

Originally a long shot to make the playoffs, the Indians are the only Cahokia Conference team still playing in November.

“It will be nice to be playing at home before the home crowd,” Indians coach Chris Birkner said Sunday. “I expect that we will be the underdog against a very good Westville football team. I haven’t really gotten a chance to watch a lot of what they do, but I know they have a lot of seniors, and they’ve been very strong the last couple of years.

“This football team has really battled. It hasn’t been easy being on the road. But I think its brought us together as a group. On the road, we haven’t had to deal with the side issues. We have just been able to concentrate and get ready for a football game.”

Against Sciota West Prairie, the Indians were focused on the job at hand. Senior quarterback Alex Huels threw a pair of long touchdown passes — one each to Tyler Siever and Nick Becker — and running back Landon Smith added an 85-yard touchdown run. The Indians jumped out to a 12-0 halftime lead and never trailed.

Huels suffered an arm injury in the first half of the Indians’ Week 7 game at Salem and had not played until Saturday. But while the Indians offense generated 32 points, it was the play of the defense and special teams that stood out to Birkner.

“We actually played a very complete football game. Our defense was outstanding, as was our special teams,” Birkner said “There were three times when our special teams pinned them inside their own 10-yard line to start drives. Our defense forced four turnovers, so we won that battle as well.

“We’re excited to be hosting a playoff game. These kids will come out and continue to give a great effort. We just have to limit our penalties and not turn the football over.”