Waubonsie Valley made its long trip to Edwardsville worthwhile Saturday.
Sophomore Tanner Westwood capitalized on excellent protection from his offensive line and eventually found senior Mike France open in the back of the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown pass that lifted the Warriors to a 20-17 overtime victory over Edwardsville in the first round of the Class 8A playoffs.
“We ran that play in Week 4 against Naperville Central and we ended up throwing it long,” said Westwood, a quarterback and tailback. “In a situation like this, we knew we didn’t have the long ball. I was looking for the tight end, but he wasn’t there. I had all the time in the world, so I turned around, kept my eyes downfield and completed the pass.”
The Warriors, who departed Aurora at 6 a.m. and arrived in Edwardsville at about 10:30 after traveling 250-plus miles, improved to 6-4 and handed the Tigers (9-1) their first loss. It was Edwardsville’s first loss in the first round since 2011 when it fell 48-27 to O’Fallon.
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“We had been waiting for that play the whole game,” Edwardsville coach Matt Martin said. “I thought our kids recognized it well. No. 5 (Westwood) just made a great play. He scrambled and found somebody open. Ballgame.
“You’ve got to give him credit. In that situation, a lot of kids will throw that ball (early) even though we had it covered. He didn’t. He scrambled and found somebody open.”
Regulation ended with the game tied at 14. Waubonsie Valley won the coin toss before overtime and deferred, giving Edwardsville the first possession at the 10-yard line. Senior Riley Jones hit a 20-yard field goal to put the Tigers ahead 17-14.
The Warriors got a 2-yard run from senior Max Ihry on their first play. On their next chance, senior quarterback Jack Connolly lined up in a shotgun and pitched the ball to Westwood, who rolled right, then cut back to his left and eluded senior end A.J. Epenesa before connecting with France on a perfect throw.
“He’s a playmaker,” said Warriors coach Paul Murphy, who had benched Westwood earlier in the game after he fumbled a snap. “I felt so bad for him. We were going to play him quite a bit at quarterback in the second half until he fumbled and he was hanging his head. But he’s a great kid. If there’s one guy on our team that’s going to make a play ad-lib, it’s him.”
Tigers squander chance
With the game tied at 14, Edwardsville senior Kendell Davis dodged one Warriors defender near the sidelines, then jumped over another en route to a 57-yard run that put the Tigers on the Waubonsie Valley 1-yard with about two minutes to play.
Davis was then dropped for a 1-yard loss and junior quarterback Brenden Dickmann fumbled after a hit by Ihry, and the loose ball was recovered by Warriors senior Jake Schroeder.
“I saw the QB roll out and there was no one in front of me, so I’m like, ‘I’ve got to try and knock the ball out,’” Ihry said. “I think my helmet hit him right on his arm. I didn’t see (who recovered); I just wanted to finish the tackle. I heard everybody go crazy.”
Martin cringed when he remembered the missed opportunity, but perhaps no more than when he recalled the Tigers’ other three turnovers.
“We had way too many (mistakes),” Martin said. “But I think you have to give them credit. They play solid defense and we turned the ball over way too much.”
By the numbers
Edwardsville senior Jackson Morrissey finished with 15 carries for 149 yards, including an 83-yard touchdown run that tied the game at 7 in the first quarter. Davis had 17 carries for 139 yards, including a 13-yard TD run that tied the score at 14 in the fourth quarter.
Ihry rushed 19 times for 119 yards and two TDs. His 17-yard run put the Warriors ahead 7-0 in the first quarter, and his 53-yard run up the middle put Waubonsie Valley ahead 14-7 with 3.9 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
“That was most disappointing,” Martin said.
Edwardsville’s drive that tied the game at 14 featured a heavy dose of junior tight end Nathan Kolesa, who had three catches for 41 yards after dropping a pass early in the game.
Planting the seeds
Edwardsville was the No. 3 seed in Class 8A, while Waubonsie Valley was No. 30.
But the Warriors were confident that their strength of schedule in the DuPage Valley Conference would benefit them against the battle-tested Tigers.
“It’s a great win,” Ihry said. “Credit to my O-line. They blocked well and everybody did their jobs well. That’s what enabled us to beat a good team like this and get a ‘W.’
“I know people were going to be doubting us just because of our seeding, but we had a great week of practice and we were all focused coming down here. We were all pumped to get down here because we wanted to make a statement to show that our record is not really how good we are. I think we did that today.”
Martin knew Waubonsie Valley would be a tough opponent.
“They play good competition; they’re a good team,” Martin said. “They’ve been inconsistent all year. The turnover bug has helped them and hurt them. They beat some good teams and they lost to some teams that maybe were below their caliber. Today, they played well enough to beat us, so my hat’s off to them.”