PBL football wins 32-16 over Seneca

SENECA -- The Paxton-Buckley-Loda High School varsity football team's quest to reclaim a Sangamon Valley Conference championship took a huge step forward on Saturday.
With its 32-16 victory over the Fighting Irish, PBL not only improved to 3-1 overall, but moved to 2-0 in the SVC as it seeks its third conference title in four years.
“It feels good," PBL head coach Jeff Graham said. "Anytime you can pull off a conference win, it's a good feeling.”
The Panthers' defense forced a three-and-out on Seneca's opening possession. A false-start penalty resulted in a first-and-15 on the Irish's own 12-yard line before Hunter Anderson tackled Seneca's Brody Baudino on a screen pass for a gain on one yard.
A Seneca rushing attempt resulted in a loss of four yards before Logan Brust ran for two yards on third-and-18, forcing the Irish to punt to their own 42-yard line.
A 5-yard run by T.J. Jones was followed by a scamper by Jones to the right side that gave PBL a first down on Seneca's 24-yard line. Three plays later, Panthers quarterback Gunner Belt found Mason Ecker for an 18-yard gain that put the ball on the 5-yard line.
After rushing for four yards on first down, Jones rumbled into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown to give PBL a 7-0 lead with 7:36 left in the first quarter.
It would be the first of three touchdown runs for Jones, who carries the ball 14 times for 216 yards.
“He did a nice job. He runs hard," Graham said. "You can't arm-tackle him. He fights for every yard and does a nice job.”
Baudino ran for combined seven yards on the first two plays of Seneca's ensuing drive before scampering three more yards on third down to move the ball to the Irish's own 30-yard line. Bruss then ran for three yards and Cole Underhill scampered for five yards on second down before PBL was called for an encroachment penalty on third-and-2, moving the ball to the 43-yard line. 
An incomplete pass was followed by two rushing attempts by Bruss that netted six yards, forcing Seneca to punt to PBL's 5-yard line.
Jones ran for three yards on first down before Anderson scampered to the Panthers' own 16-yard line for a first down. On the next play, however, Anderson fumbled.
Anderson recovered his fumble in PBL's own end zone, where Seneca's Gavin Roberton tackled him for a safety with 1:40 remaining in the first quarter.
A couple of scoring opportunities were then given to Seneca.
After the Irish received the ball via free kick on its own 40-yard line, a run by Underhill resulted in two yards on first down before Bruss scampered to PBL's 33-yard line on second-and-8. 
Alex Rueck tackled Kenneth Sangston for a loss of yards on a quarterback keeper before Bruss ran toward PBL's 14-yard line on second-and-11. 
After Underhill and Baudino each ran for two yards on first and second down, respectively, before Bruss ran for one yard to set up fourth-and-5. Sangston failed to connect with Ryan McCauley on a screen pass, resulting in a turnover on downs and PBL taking over on its own 9-yard line. 
Jones ran toward the Panthers' 27-yard line for a first down before a false start penalty moved PBL back five yards. Kyle Poll ran for three yards before Austin Gooden made a diving catch on second-and-12 to move the ball to the Panthers' 46-yard line.
Two plays later, however, a pass by Belt intended for Gooden was intercepted by Ben Virgo and returned to PBL's 39-yard line.
After Dalton Busboom recorded a tackle for loss on first down, Sangston found Connor Greve for a 36-yard gain, moving the ball to the 6-yard line.
Baudino ran for four yards on first down and Sangston sneaked for another yards on second-and-goal, but on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line, Sangston fumbled on a sneak attempt.
The fumble was recovered by Andrew Swanson, giving the Panthers the ball back on their own 1-yard line.
“A couple of times, the defense had their back against the wall, but they came out well and held them," Graham said. "They just did a tremendous job and fought through adversity. I'm very proud of the way our defense played.”
Poll ran for four yards on first down after the fumble recovery. Two plays later, Belt scampered to the PBL 11-yard line for a first down.
A couple of penalties were called on the Panthers, resulting in a second-and-15 on which Poll ran for five yards, and an incomplete pass on third-and-10 forced PBL to punt to Seneca's 48-yard line.
The PBL defense forced a three-and-out as the Irish recovered a fumble on first down, Bruss was tackled by Rueck for a gain of one yards and Bruss threw an incomplete pass, forcing Seneca to punt to the Panthers' 12-yard line.
After a 5-yard run by Keyn Humes and an incomplete pass on third down, Belt found Gooden on a third-and-5 pass for a gain of 24 yards. 
Two plays later, on a second-and-17, Belt connected on a 66-yard touchdown pass to Ecker, who scampered down the right sideline after catching a pass that sailed over the outstretched hand of Seneca's T.J. Van Ness, with 1:16 left in the second quarter. 
“It was nice pitch-and-catch by Gunner and Mason," Graham said. "It was just a good play.”
A holding penalty on the first play of Seneca's ensuing drive was followed by three runs producing a combined five yards before the Irish punted to end the first half with the score 13-2 in favor of the Panthers.
Belt ran for a first down on a fourth-and-4 on PBL's first possession of the first half, moving the ball to the Panthers' 43-yard line.
Three plays later, Belt connected with Gooden on a third-and-7 for a first down on Seneca's 43-yard line. 
Jones ran for six yards on first down, but another scamper by Jones for no gain and an incomplete pass on third down was followed by a fourth-and-4 pass that was too high for Ecker.
The two teams then exchanged three-and-outs before Seneca took over on PBL's 40-yard line.
Bruss was tackled by Gooden on a 1-yard run on first down before an incomplete pass and a false-start penalty on the Irish set up a third-and-15, on which Ecker picked off a pass to give PBL the ball back on its own 8-yard line.
Ecker's interception complemented an offensive performance by him that accumulated 84 receiving yards on two catches as Ecker was one of several Panthers playing both ways in temperatures that reached the high-80 degree range.
“It was pretty hot today. A lot of our players went two ways today, but they powered through," Jones said. "They would come in as soon as they can ready to go.”
Jones ran for 53 yards to Seneca's 39-yard line on PBL's ensuing drive before Coplea scampered for 10 yards on the next play. 
Poll ran for three yards on the following play. On second-and-7, PBL was called for an illegal formation on another Poll run.
On the next play, however, Poll scampered for 24 yards to put the ball on the 7-yard line. 
Coplea then ran for a 7-yard touchdown to extend PBL's lead to 19-2 with 2:18 remaining in the third quarter. Coplea's scampering abilities at quarterback complemented the passing abilities of the starting quarterback, Belt, who produced 146 yards on 5-for-14 passing.
“Both of them did a nice job today," Graham said. "I thought Gunner threw the ball well. Gavin came in and ran the ball well and ran the offense really nicely. Both of those guys are doing a really good job.”
The sophomore Coplea has been playing quarterback in a relief role for the junior Belt after missing week two due to injury.
“Gavin's starting to come back into his own since coming back from week one," Graham said.
The PBL defense forced another three-and-out on Seneca's ensuing possession as Tristan Hauersperger tackled Bruss on a screen pass for a loss of eight yards before an incomplete pass on second down. Gooden -- who caught three passes for 58 yards on offense -- sacked Sangston on third-and-18, forcing the Irish (2-2, 1-1) to punt on fourth-and-25 to the Seneca 41-yard line.
On fourth-and-6, Jones scampered 37 yards for his second touchdown of the game to extend the Panthers' lead to 25-2 with 11:47 left in the game.
Seneca drove 80 yards on seven plays for its first offensive score of the game -- a 10-yard touchdown by Bruss with 7:55 remaining -- as Bruss ran for 17 yards on the first play of the drive before Baudino ran for a first down on third-and-3 and Sangston completed a pass on second-and-5 to put the ball on PBL's 14-yard line. Bruss tallied his touchdown run two plays later.
On just the second play of PBL's ensuing drive, Jones found running room down the middle for a 66-yard touchdown with 7:09 left in the game.
Jones's 216 game-total rushing yards included 172 yards on eight carries in the second half.
“I've got to thank my linemen. I wouldn't have gotten those big runs if it wasn't for my linemen," Jones said. "I thank all of them for those runs.”
A 12-play, 87-yard drive was capped by a 32-yard touchdown run by Bruss with 1:42 remaining in the game, which cut Seneca's deficit to 32-16.
The drive included a 12-yard run on second-and-4 by Bruss to move the ball to the Irish's 39-yard line, a 14-yard scamper by Zakk Gonnam on second-and-3 that drove the ball to PBL's 47-yard line and an first-down run by Underhill.
The Irish tried an onside kick after Bruss's touchdown run, but the kick was recovered by the Panthers' Calvin Foster.
A victory next Friday at Momence would improve PBL's overall record to 4-1 and conference mark to 3-0.
“It feels great. We're working hard and putting work in every day at practice," Jones said. "We're not giving up. We want to go all the way, and we're going to do it step-by-step, play-by-play.”
The Panthers won against Seneca without the services of Jake Rich, who got injured in PBL's week-three victory over Iroquois West. 
“Hopefully, we can get him back next week," Graham said.
Either way, there will still be several players participating on both sides of the ball against Momence.
“I tell them all the time that every rep and sprint we do in practice counts because we have a lot of guys going two ways," Graham said. "It's one of those things where we have to continue maintaining our shape throughout the season. Hopefully, we get a few guys healthy this week and we just continue cleaning up some things on offense and continuing to improve.”
PBL 32, Seneca 16
PBL  7  6  6  13  -- 32
SEN  2  0  0  14  -- 16
Scoring summary
P -- Jones 1 run (Humes kick)
S -- Safety
P -- Ecker 66 pass from Belt (run failed)
P -- Coplea 7 run (kick failed)
P -- Jones 37 run (pass failed)
S -- Bruss 10 run (run failed)
P -- Jones 66 run (Humes kick)
S -- Bruss 32 run (Hartwig pass from Sangston)
Individual stats
RUSHING — PBL (T.J. Jones 14-216).
PASSING — PBL (Gunner Belt 5-14-146)
RECEIVING — PBL (Mason Ecker 2-84. Austin Gooden 3-58).
Team Conf. Overall
PBL 2-0 3-1
Watseka 1-0 3-1
CC 1-0 2-2
Seneca  1-1   2-2
Momence 1-1 1-3
Dwight 0-2 1-3
Iroquois West 0-2 0-4
Iroquois West at Oakwood
PBL at Momence
Seneca at Clifton Central
Watseka at Dwight 


Categories (3):Prep Sports, Football, Sports


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