COAL CITY – A Manteno offense that averaged nearly 45 points through six weeks wore Coal City down Friday night, scoring 27 unanswered points in a 34-6 victory.
With the win, Manteno (7-0, 5-0) clinched the outright Interstate Eight Large championship. Coal City (4-3, 3-2) finishes third in the division.
The opening drive resulted in a Manteno touchdown on a 2-yard quarterback draw by Gavin Zimbelman. But the Panthers failed to score on their next two drives, and Joe Starkey’s 17-yard touchdown run with 2:17 left in the second quarter drew the Coalers within 7-6 when the extra point missed.
“I got knocked out at first,” said Starkey, who was hit hard near the line of scrimmage on his run. “I just saw ’em clearing, and I went to the end zone. I saw Brad Littleton make a big block on the corner, and I took it to the house.”
It appeared then that the teams – who had played three straight games decided by one point before Friday – were headed for another close game.
That appearance changed in a hurry. Zimbelman completed passes of 30 and 48 yards before hitting Brian Steele for an 11-yard touchdown during the Panthers’ final drive of the first half. Zimbelman was just getting warmed up, as he had three more touchdowns in the second half, connecting with Sean Schmidt for a 17-yard score, Steele for a 10-yard touchdown and Travelle Calvin for a 4-yard dagger.
From that final first-half drive on, Zimbelman went 22 for 30 for 271 yards. At one point, he completed 14 consecutive passes.
“We just didn’t make plays. At times, our DBs were there. Put a hand up, make a play. We had to make some plays when we were in position to,” Coal City coach Lenny Onsen said. “They’re good. They’ve got a good group right now. I’m watching them on film and sometimes it’s boom-boom-boom – a big play for a touchdown here, a special-teams touchdown there.
“It was they had more horses today than we had. That’s all it is. They had more.”
Coal City’s second-half drives resulted in two three-and-outs, a turnover on downs, an interception and a lost fumble as it possessed the ball for less than eight minutes. The Coalers gained only two first downs in the second half after totaling 12 in the first half.
“Our offense needed to be on the field a lot more,” Starkey said. “Our defense just gets too tired when our offense isn’t out there. We just got to come out harder, that’s the biggest thing. We just got to come out harder and finish drives and finish the ballgame, and that’s what we gotta learn here.”