By JJ Bullock
It was not pretty on every snap for Mattoon, but the Green Wave made clutch plays when they needed to, earning their first win of the season on the road over Taylorville, 19-14, on Friday night.
Senior defensive lineman Hayden Williams came up with the biggest play of the game, returning an interception 70 yards for a touchdown with 6:30 left to play in the third quarter that gave Mattoon a 19-14 it would never relinquish.
The pass had hit Williams in the hands, and, after bobbling it, the big lineman rumbled down the field for a score that sent the Mattoon bench into a frenzy.
“All I was doing was scanning to see where people could pick up blocks and (Williams) had a lot of kids downfield, a lot of our players were down there picking up blocks for him,” Mattoon coach Troy Johnson said of the touchdown. “Plus, he had a nice little move down there at the 30 (yard-line) where he cut back inside, so you’ve got to give him credit.”
Mattoon’s defense stifled Taylorville’s offense the rest of the way, forcing the Tornadoes into two punts and a turnover on downs in their final three possessions.
Offensively, Mattoon closed the game strong on the ground, controlling the clock. Senior running back Jakai Johnson had a series of big runs in the second half on his way to 109 yards rushing on 22 carries.
“They were giving him some creases, and the thing about Jakai is he’s got great vision, his ability to see holes and cut back on holes and things of that nature is really pretty good,” Johnson said. “He does a real good job for us back there.”
Quarterback Jackson Spurgeon rushed for 73 yards on 16 carries, senior Zachary Schick added 40 yards and one touchdown on nine carries.
“All of our backs are a little bit different,” Johnson said. “Schick is a little bit different than Jakai and Nate (Kirts) is different than those two, so they all three bring a different package to it.”
Mattoon (1-1) hurt itself with mistakes in the first half, including an interception, a fumble, dropped passes, a litany of untimely penalties.
However, the Green Wave made up for their mistakes in shocking fashion to bring the score to 14-13 in the second quarter.
Mattoon was driving down the field with less than two minutes to play in the first half, trailing Taylorville 14-7.
The Green Wave worked the ball inside Taylorville’s 15-yard line, but had a dropped pass and a false start on consecutive plays that stopped their momentum and moved them back to a 2nd-15 situation. Spurgeon was able to pick back up 13 yards on a scramble before another false start moved Mattoon back again.
Mattoon ended up converting on 4th-and-2, but, on the ensuing first down, Mattoon dropped another pass, this time in the end zone. After the dropped pass, a hold moved moved Mattoon back to Taylorville’s 44-yard line. With three seconds to play Mattoon was facing a 2nd-and-28. Mattoon finished the first half with five penalties for 49 yards.
It was then that Spurgeon and senior wide receiver Dillon Burton made up for all of the first half mistakes, connecting on a 44-yard touchdown pass that pushed the score to 14-13. Mattoon failed to convert a two-point conversion.
“That’s a big huge thing going into halftime,” Johnson said.
Mattoon opened the game by forcing Taylorville into a fumble that led to a two-yard touchdown run by Schick and 7-0 lead early in the game for the Green Wave.
“Anytime you get the early lead that’s nice, but sometimes you’re scared because you score that early and it feels like its that easy, sometimes there’s a let down,” Johnson said. “Big turn around, big start and just proud of the way our kids played.”