GCMS wins 35-16 over Maroa-Forsyth for second straight IHSA Class 2A championship

CHAMPAIGN — The Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley football team won its second straight IHSA Class 2A state championship via 35-16 score over Maroa-Forsyth on Saturday.

“It was a well-played game. Maroa-Forsyth is here for a reason,” GCMS head coach Mike Allen said. “They’re a heck of a program. Compliments to our kids. They played their butts off through four quarters. That score’s no indication of how close that game really was, but our kids stepped up and really played with a lot of heart.”

It was the second time in a row that GCMS defeated Maroa-Forsyth in the 2A state-title game. Last year, the Falcons defeated the Trojans 38-32.

“They battled a great team,” Maroa-Forsyth head coach Josh Jostes said. “I thought our special teams and defense was outstanding today.”

“It helped a lot that we were there last year against the same team, but also with the same crowd. I’ve grown up in this town, and every time we played football, there’d be huge crowds for us. We knew that, win or lose, they’ll be behind us 100 percent. It’s just the best feeling,” GCMS senior linebacker Austin Spiller added. “Thanks to all the coaches. You could say that it was the players that did all the work, but the coaches were the ones who put the game plan in.”

GCMS went into the game having already made history as the Falcons were the first team to reach state-title game after winning the 2A championship the previous year since Aledo’s back-to-back championships in 2001 (13-1) and 2002 (14-0).

Prior to the Falcons’ win Friday over Maroa-Forsyth, the last team to go undefeated en route to winning the 2A state title in two straight years was Decatur St. Teresa, which went 13-0 in 1974 and 1975. 

There were five classes back then in the IHSA postseason — the Falcons are only the second team to win back-to-back 2A state titles since the IHSA expanded to eight classes for postseason football in 2001. 

“Last year, we did something we’ve never done before. This year, we also did something we’ve never done before,” GCMS senior quarterback/defensive back Nathan Garard said. “No one has ever won back-to-back (state titles) in our program. That was motivation to say, ‘We’re good, too. It wasn’t just all the guys last year.’ Hat’s off to them last year because they were a bunch of stud athletes, too, but we had to dig deep in ourselves and know that we contribute, too, and we can do this, too.’”

The Falcons’ 28 wins in a row is also tied for 20th all-time in IHSA history with Joliet Catholic (2003-04) and Park Ridge Maine South (Aug. 29, 2008 to Aug. 27, 2010).

“It just means a lot,” Allen said. “The first day after last year’s state championship, they’re in the weight room. Five or six of them played two basketball games. Our athletes are competitors. They want to compete, and they set their mind to it last year that nothing was going to stop them. They worked hard. They lifted. They worked and put the time in that it takes to put themselves in this position. I couldn’t be more proud of them for doing that. For them to see that, if you work hard, good things can happen, that means a lot to me as a head coach.”

***
The teams went scoreless through the first 19 1/2 minutes of the second half until Austin Spiller returned an interception 17 yards for a GCMS touchdown that extended the Falcons’ lead to 28-16 with 4:27 remaining in the game. 

“I didn’t think he was going to throw it,” Spiller said. “When he did throw it, I caught it and saw Bryce (Barnes) coming to the outside, so I just followed him and tried to get to the corner of the end zone.”

The third-and-9 pass followed an incomplete pass by Benner and a run by Benner for one yards, on which he was tackled by Bryce Barnes.

“We thought we’d be able to get inside (Spiller),” Jostes said. “He got a great read and got underneath the ball. He did a great job.”

“We drew up a play, and it just didn’t go our play,” Maroa-Forsyth junior Ian Benner added. “Their kid made a good play on the ball.”

The drive started on Maroa-Forsyth’s own 1-yard line after a punt by the Falcons. Earlier in the game, the Trojans (13-1) blocked two GCMS punts in the first half, and in the second half, a low snap on another punt attempt resulted in a turnover on downs for the Falcons on their own 48-yard line via an incomplete pass.

“I don’t know how NFL coaches deal with their kickers and punters,” Allen said. “(GCMS kicker/punter Ben Freehill) didn’t whine or pout. We don’t let him do that on the sidelines. We told him to do what you do, and he did, and Daniel Jones got down there, turned his back to the end zone, waited for the ball to come to him and pinned him on the 1-yard line. That’s big.

Freehill finished the game converting on 5-of-5 extra-point attempts.

“Ben has been an incredible kicker and punter for four years for us, Allen said. “His punting and kicking are outstanding, and the coverage that we have behind him has played very well for us.”

On the kickoff following Spiller’s pick-six, the Trojans tried a backwards pass from Wade Jostes to Drew Hicks, but the pass was inaccurate, resulting in a fumble that was recovered by Layne Harden in the end zone for another GCMS score. 

“Layne Harden read his keys and stayed home,” Allen said. “That was big. Our kids kept their composure. We knew something was going to come — a reverse or something like that. Our kids just sniffed it out and played it well.”

The score via fumble recovery extended GCMS’s lead to 35-16 with 4:17 left in the game.

“We had to make something happen,” Jostes said. “We’re willing to take a shot. We were playing to win the ballgame. You’ve got to make something happen. We didn’t execute really well, obviously.”

A fumble by Clifton that was recovered by GCMS’s Ryland Holt ended Maroa-Forsyth’s final drive at the Falcons’ 44-yard line with 3:13 remaining. From there, two first-down runs by Jared Trantina helped seal the game as the Falcons ran out the clock.

The Trojans had two red-zone opportunities in the second half, but Bryce Barnes sacked Ian Benner on a fourth-and-goal from the 14-yard line with 8:51 remaining.

“It was a big play by Barnes,” Allen said.

Prior to the sack, Maroa-Forsyth tried a 14-yard pass to tight end Kadinn Morris on a third-and-goal in the left corner, but the pass fell incomplete as GCMS’s Lane Short — who finished the game with eight tackles — broke up the pass attempt.

“He’s a heck of a ballplayer,” Jostes said. “He’s going to win that 1-on-1 battle more than he doesn’t.”

“We had a lot of confidence coming into the game,” Morris added. “I felt like we settled a little bit (after scoring 14 points in the first quarter). Every time you get comfortable, stuff never goes your way. You always have to be playing like you’re playing from behind, and that time, we weren’t.”

The fourth-and-goal sack by Barnes — who finished the game with two sacks along with one tackle for loss of yards — followed two first-down runs by Bryson Boes that moved the ball from Maroa-Forsyth’s 30-yard line to the GCMS 30-yard line. Boes then ran for six yards on fourth-and-6 to get to the 20-yard line before Benner completed a screen pass to Drew Hicks to move the ball to the 10-yard line.

The drive stalled, however, thanks to an illegal-substitution penalty on second-and-goal from the 10-yard line and a rush by Clifton for one yard prior to the incomplete pass intended for Morris.

In the third quarter, Benner was tackled by Spiller — who led the Falcons in tackles with nine — on a fourth-and-1, giving GCMS the ball back on its own 20-yard line.

That drive started on GCMS’s 48-yard line following the low snap on one of Freehill’s punt attempts.

Clifton — who led the Trojans in rushing with 123 yards on 15 carries — rushed for a first down on second-and-2 to the 29-yard line.

Benner — who had 118 yards rushing on 15 carries while also passing for 142 yards — then completed a pass to Morris for four yards before Clifton rushed for three yards. On third-and-3, Nathan Garard tackled Clifton on a 2-yard pass completion prior to Spiller’s fourth-down tackle.

After GCMS’s fourth-down stop, Trantina ran for seven yards on third-and-2 to mover the ball to the 35-yard line on the Falcons’ ensuing possession. Two plays later, Barnes rushed over left end for 22 yards to Maroa-Forsyth’s 38-yard line.

The drive stalled, however, leading to Freehill’s coffin-corner punt to the 1-yard line.

***
The Falcons faced something they had not faced in their previous 13 games — a deficit — after Maroa-Forsyth’s Ian Benner completed a 10-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal to Drew Hicks to put the Trojans up 7-0 with 7:26 left in the first quarter. The seven-play, 77-yard drive included a 49-yard pass to Kadinn Morris to put the ball on GCMS’s 23-yard line.

It was the first time that GCMS’s defense yielded a first-quarter score.

The Falcons answered Maroa-Forsyth’s go-ahead score with a 73-yard drive of its own that was capped by a 1-yard touchdown by Jared Trantina that tied the game at 7-7 with 3:39 remaining in the first quarter. Nathan Garard completed a 35-yard pass to Bryce Barnes along the left sideline to put the ball on the Trojans’ 25-yard line before a pass-interference penalty on Maroa-Forsyth on a pass attempt to Ryland Holt in the end zone put the ball in the red zone for GCMS. 

The Trojans drove 63 yards on five plays on their ensuing drive — including two keepers by Benner, along with a late-hit penalty on GCMS, that moved the ball 50 yards to the 13-yard line — before Benner hooked up with Hicks on an 8-yard touchdown pass with 1:48 remaining in the first quarter.

“They do run a great offense,” Spiller said. “They are very talented with what they do. Coach Jostes calls some great plays.”

After Maroa-Forsyth’s Zac Clifton blocked a punt to give the Trojans the ball back on GCMS’s 15-yard line, a sack by Trantina and Hayden Workman moved the ball back 15 yards for second-and-25. Barnes recorded another sack on fourth-and-16 after a 2-yard run by Wade Jostes on second down and a 7-yard completion to Hicks on third-and-23.

“We don’t panic,” Allen said. “I think we made that clear last year when we went down by 11 in the state game. When you go kayacing, we always say when you get in a tough situation, don’t flip over and panic. Hold true to what you’re doing, and that’s what we kept doing.”

From there, GCMS drove 77 yards in seven plays, including a 33-yard completion from Garard to Holt that put the ball on the Maroa-Forsyth 33-yard line and a 31-yard run by Trantina that put the ball on the 2-yard line, before Trantina tallied the game-tying 1-yard touchdown with 7:33 left in the first quarter.

Garard finished the game with 85 passing yards on 6-of-14 passing while Holt had 44 yards on two receptions and Barnes had two catches for 40 yards.

“You’ve got to send a message to the other team that you are a dual threat,” Garard said. “To be able to have guys I can throw to is amazing. It keeps the defense guessing. To be able to execute on both sides like that is something special that you don’t get out of small teams.” 

Austin Spiller recovered a Gavin Clifton fumble that put the ball on the Trojans’ 13-yard line via an Aidan Laughery tackle. 

“The game was tough in the beginning. It was a dogfight on the line,” Spiller said. “Our offense was having a little bit of trouble moving the ball and getting some quick yards, so I knew that our defense needed to make a big stop or a big play, and that’s exactly what our defensive backs did. Aidan Laughery spun him around to break his arms free, and I got the ball back for our offense.”

On the next play, Trantina broke multiple tackles en route to a touchdown along the right side that put GCMS ahead 21-14 with 7:11 left in the second quarter.

Along with scoring three touchdowns, Trantina also ran for a game-high 144 yards on 24 carries behind an offensive line that had Keegan Kutemeier starting at center along with Garrett Wright at right guard, Hayden Workman at right tackle, Joe Allen at left guard and Jordan Lee at left tackle.

“I’ve got to give all the credit to the offensive line. They just manhandled them down there. The offensive line did amazing,” Trantina said. “It felt great. Last week against Eastland-Pearl City, I had one of the worst games of my career, and I knew I needed to come out big, and our line just got it done. I just ran to the holes.”

The Trojans’ ensuing possession included a one-handed catch by Kadinn Morris that moved the ball into Falcon territory and a first-down run by Gavin Clifton that put the ball on the GCMS 18-yard line.

“I’ve had catches like that before in my career playing football,” Morris said. “It’s just another day. If I have my hands on the ball, I’m taught to come down with it. It was a big conversion play. We didn’t finish that drive the way we wanted to.”

After a third-and-1 on the 9-yard line on which Spiller and Joe Allen tackled Clifton for a loss of two yards, the freshman Laughery recorded an interception in the end zone on fourth-and-3.

“We really brought him in, really, in the Chicago Hope (second-round game),” Allen said. “We’re a team that was just loaded with athletes, and we threw him out there in offense and defense. We put a big role on him, and he’s stepped up ever since.

Laughery finished the game with four tackles on defense and four carries for two yards on offense.

“We got up big (against El Paso-Gridley), and we gave him, and our fullback, Isaiah Chatman the ball a lot,” Allen said. “Laughery came in and ran in between tackles, and I pulled him aside and said, ‘Hey man, I apologize. I didn’t mean to put you in that position, to run between tackles,’ and he said, ‘Coach, that’s where all the fun is.’ I knew at that point we had a kid we could play. He’s not timid, and he showed that. He has played outstanding. He’s going to be a name you’re going to hear in the next few years.”

The pass that was intercepted by Laughery deflected off Max Davenport’s hands. Davenport was hit by Lane Short before the ball popped out of his hands as he hit the ground.

“We thought it was a touchdown,” Jostes said. “That was a big swing in the ballgame. We had a few chances. You’ll never hear me criticizes the refs. We lost. We would have liked to see the call the other way, though.”

Laughery returned the pick to the Falcons’ own 26-yard line, but a block-in-the-back penalty moved the ball back to the 16-yard line.

“I was just trying to go up and make a play on the ball,” Davenport said. “I wasn’t open on my original route, so I had to scramble out. I had it, but I just couldn’t come down with it.”

Following a three-and-out on GCMS’s ensuing possession, another blocked punt by Maroa-Forsyth’s Johnny Luttrell resulted in a safety for the Trojans with 18 seconds left in the first half.

After the first quarter, GCMS did not allow a single offensive score, as the Trojans’ only score through the final three quarters came via a special-teams safety in the second quarter.

“It’s not always one play because one play doesn’t make or break a game. Big thanks to (assistant coach Chad) Augspurger and coach Allen for putting us in position to make the plays. It was all of us,” Spiller said. “When we went into the locker room at halftime, most of the seniors and starters on defense sat down and told each other what we’re seeing and what we think they’re going to do and how do we stop it. That’s something we do every game, even when we’re winning, so we can prepare for the next half. I think it was more about us being prepared and being able to talk to each other knowing we’re going to do our jobs.”

The Trojans finished the game outgaining 407-305, but with 275 of those yards coming in the first half.

“We broke down and started tackling correctly. We ran our keys and we didn’t let anything get deep on us. We didn’t just hit and bounce off. We wrapped up, and what we hit, we took down,” Allen said. “The secondary played really well, and our defensive line put pressure on the quarterback throw earlier than he wanted.”

The Trojans passed for 123 yards and rushed for 152 in the first half.

“They’re really good defensively,” Jostes said. “There’s a reason why we’ve scored more than anybody has on them all season long. It still wasn’t very much. We struggled blocking Barnes all day long. He was a man out there. We were able to get some stuff going, but we were not overly consistent.

“We want to be in front of the chains. They’re really good when they have you in second- or third-and-long. You’ve got to make some plays. I have a handful of plays that I’d like to have called back. We had our chances. We should have had 30 points, for sure. Ifs and buts aren’t candy and nuts, though. We did some good things on offense. We just didn’t finish the drives.”

***
For 17 GCMS players — Lane Short, Ben Freehill, Nathan Garard, Andrew Laughery, Layne Harden, Bryce Barnes, Lance Livingston, Ryland Holt, Jared Trantina, Marcus Baillie, Austin Spiller, Josh Bleich, Darrin Brown, Joe Allen, Remi Astronomo, Hayden Workman and Garrett Wright — Friday’s game was their last one as they will be graduating.

Nine seniors started on defense for the Falcons while seven started for the offense. Freehill, the team’s punter and kicker, is a senior as well.

“Being with these guys has been an awesome experience,” Garard said. “I definitely love these guys with all my heart, and I definitely wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

It helped enhance the experience, Holt said, that the game was in Memorial Stadium.

“Honestly, last year, I didn’t know (the state-title game) is going to be in DeKalb until two weeks into the playoffs,” Holt said. “I always thought it was here. Growing up, I always dreamed about playing here on this field. Being at Illinois’ field is just amazing. It’s a dream come true.”

Two days prior to Friday’s state-title game, it was announced at a GCMS boys basketball game that the GCMS Booster Club sold all 1,000 of its tickets available.

“That was big,” Allen said. “We can’t thank the fans enough for their amazing support.”
 
FRIDAY
GCMS 35, Maroa-Forsyth 16

GCMS     7   14   0  14   — 35
MF    14   2    0   0    — 16
Scoring summary
M — Hicks 10 pass from Benner (Fitzpatrick kick)
G — Trantina 1 run (Freehill kick)
M — Hicks 8 pass from Benner (Fitzpatrick kick)
G — Trantina 1 run (Freehill kick)
G — Trantina 13 run (Freehill kick)
M — Safety
G — Spiller 17 interception return (Freehill kick)
G — Harden fumble recovery (Freehill kick)
Team stats
Category        GCMS MF

First downs        17 17
Rushing        11 11
Passing        5   4
Penalty        1   2
Net yards rushing    220 265
Rushing attempts    42 36
Average per rush    5.2 7.4
Rushing touchdowns    3 0
Yards gained rushing    227 288
Yards lost rushing    7 23
Net yards passing    85 142
Comp.-att.-INTs    6-15-0 13-23-2
Average per attempt    5.7 6.2
Average per completion    14.2 10.9
Passing touchdowns    0 2
Total offense yards    305 407
Total offense plays    57 59
Average gain per play    5.4 6.9
Fumbles: Number-Lost    0-0        3-3
Penalties        5-44   6-122
Punts-yards        5-114 2-78
Avg. yds. per punt    22.8 39.0
Net yds. per punt    14.6 25.0
Inside 20        1 0
50+ yards        0 0
Touchbacks        1 0
Fair catch        1 0
Kickoffs-yards    7-366 3-115
Avg. yds. per kick    52.3 38.3
Net yds per kick    38.3 32
Touchbacks        2 0
Punt ret.: No.-yds.-TDs    1-28-0 2-21-0
Avg. per ret.        9.5 11.6
INTs: No.-yds.-TD    2-44-1 0-0-0
Fumble ret.: No.-yds.-TDs    0-0-1 0-0-0
Misc. yds        0 0
Possession time    25:55 22:05
First quarter        7:00 5:00
Second quarter    5:04 6:56
Third quarter    6:45 5:15
Fourth quarter    7:06 4:54
3rd-down conv.    3-9 1-10
4th-down conv.    0-1 2-6
Red-zone conv.    3-3 2-6
TDs        3-3 2-6
Field goals        0-3 0-6
Sacks: No.-yds    3-40 0-0
PAT kicks        5-5 2-2
Field goals        0-0 0-0
Points off turnvs.    21 0
Individual statistics
RUSHING — GCMS 42-227 (Trantina 24-145, Kean 7-25, Garard 4-25, Barnes 1-22, Allen 2-8, Aidan Laughery 4-2). M-F 36-288 (Clifton 15-123, Benner 15-118, Boes 4-42, Davenport 1-3, Jostes 1-2).
PASSING — GCMS 6-15-85 (Garard 6-14-85, Freehill 0-1). M-F 13-23-142 (Benner 13-22-142, Jostes 0-1-0).
RECEIVING — GCMS 6-85 (Holt 2-44, Barnes 2-40). M-F 13-142 (Hicks 6-46, Morris 5-78, Davenport 1-16, Clifton 1-2).
TACKLES — GCMS 54 (Spiller 9, Short 8, Barnes 7, Workman 5, Harden 4, Kutemeier 4, Laughery 4, Trantina 4, Allen 3, Garard 2, Chatman, Bleich, Taylor, Holt). M-F 53 (Mitchell 7, Martin 6, Hetz 6, Sowa 5, Poland 5, Livingood 4, Ohlemeyer 4, Holthaus 2, Morris 2, Wilber 2, Campbell 2, Marsh 2, Klein 2, Luttrell, Benner, Bennett, Walker).
SACKS — GCMS 4 (Barnes 2, Workman, Trantina).
TACKLES FOR LOSS — GCMS 5 (Spiller 1.5, Short 1.5, Barnes 1, Workman 0.5, Trantina 0.5). M-F 3 (Sowa 1, Morris 1, Poland 0.5, Ohlemeyer 0.5).
FORCED FUMBLES — GCMS 2 (Spiller, Laughery).
FUMBLE RECOVERIES — GCMS 3 (Spiller, Barnes, Holt).
INTERCEPTIONS — GCMS 2 (Spiller, Laughery).

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