CHAMPAIGN – From the first play of the 1A state title football game, there was no stopping Forreston’s offense.
The Cardinals made it three state titles in five years In a 44-6 thumping of Camp Point Central at the University of Illinois’ Memorial Stadium on Nov. 23.
“These group of seniors did more than you could ask for,” Forreston coach Kyle Zick said. People doubted them and they overcame a lot of adversity. It’s truly credit to them.”
It was Evan Kelsey getting Forreston (12-2) going early with 22 and 37-yard touchdowns for a 14-0 lead. Kelsey would have 123 first-half rushing yards, as Forreston took a 30-0 lead.
“With the holes the offensive line were making, I was very confident,” said Kelsey, whose team had 242 yards in the first half on the ground.
For good measure, Kelsey broke up a third-down pass play, after CPC (12-2) drove into the red zone on its first possession. A fourth-down try also fell incomplete and the Panthers’ only serious scoring threat (16 plays) went for naught.
CPC had gotten to 5-yard line, but a costly 15-yard penalty nullified that play.
Taking over at the 21-yard line, it was Kelsey for 16 yards, Garett Badertscher for 11 and the Panther defense continued to reel until Kelsey scored five plays later.
CPC, which converted two fourth-down conversions on the previous drive, were not able to do the same on a second drive that stalled at midfield. Derek DeVries tossed Chayse Houston for a 4-yard loss on fourth down and Forreston got the ball back 45 yard from the end zone.
With quarterback Bailey Cullor methodically marching the Cardinals downfield, it was fullback Ethan Mulder crashing over from one yard after eight plays for the 22-0 lead.
“It was our smoothest game of the year, especially when we don’t have to pass,” said Cullor , one of nine junior position-starters on both sides of the ball.
The ensuing kickoff by Sawyer Wild pinned CPC at their 11-yard line and things would only get worse for the Panthers.
Within six plays, Forreston would intercept CPC quarterback Eric Jones twice. First, it was DB Hunter Rogers with a 27-yard pick-6 and 30-0 lead. His defensive mate on the other side of the field, Kelsey, got the second one.
“On Hunter’s pick, you could see the energy leaving them,” all-state lineman Mitchell Heinz said.
Forreston continued the pressure on CPC’s first drive of the second half. Derreck Vince tackled Noah Strohkirch for a 3-yard loss and two incompletions led to a 3-and-out.
CPC’s first punt of the game resulted in Forreston finding the end zone 11 plays later, with Mulder doing honors on a 8-yard run.
Early in the fourth quarter, it was Badertscher’s 23rd career touchdown making it a running clock at 44-0.
“To be underdogs all year and end up winning this is amazing,” Badertscher said.
Since 2005, the NUIC has gone 11-1 in championship games and Forreston’s win made it 20 state titles for current league members.
“I’m friends with Denny Diduch and coach Arand and know what brand of football is played up there,” CPC coach Brad Dixon. “We were physically outmatched. Ten times out of ten, they beat us.”
His players had similar thoughts.
“We haven’t been hit in the mouth like that since maybe Beardstown (42-24 loss),” said 300-pound lineman Kollen Hughes. “We didn’t answer the bell. That fullback (Badertscher) is a man.”
Badertscher had 96 yards rushing, part of the 404 put up by the Cardinals in the fast-moving game. Mulder added 82 and last week’s hero, Dom Christensen, another 41.
“When push came to shove, they won the battles,” Strohkirch said.
Defensively, Rogers led the Cardinals with five tackles, Christensen had five and Mulder and Cailean Davids three each.
Playing in the West Central conference, the same league as Carrollton who Forreston beat in 2014, CPC came in averaging nearly 40 points a game and 435 yards total offense. They were held to 226 yards. much of which came on a final 72-yard scoring drive, keyed by a nifty 47-yard pass from Jones to Houston.
For the Cardinals, the state title was a redemption of sort after starting 2-2 and doubts being raised on their ability to contend for a state title.
“We took bounds throughout the season,” Rogers said. “It was a completely different team than week one.”
Forreston, which suffered decisive defeats to Lena-Winslow and EPC in the regular season, began to come together before the Aquin game.
“Right before, we had a players only meeting,” Rogers said. “We go we we needed off our chest. There were a lot of off-field issues that needed to be taken care.”
The Cardinals came into Memorial Stadium after a tough 3-week playoff stretch against NUIC foes, Milledgeville, Dakota and Le-Win.
“Yes, to run the NUIC gauntlet like that helps,” Zick said. “People said we had a bad game against Milledgeville, but they are a damn good team. They surprised us. Dakota came in hungry and that was a great game and everyone knows how good Le-Win is.”