CLIFTON — Central used a smothering defense that forced six turnovers and electric special teams play to run away from Watseka 33-7 at home in a Sangamon Valley Conference battle of unbeatens Friday night.
The Comets improved to 6-0 on the season with the win, and 3-0 in SVC play, and the Warriors fell to 5-1 overall and 2-1 in the SVC.
Central couldn’t have started any faster, as Chandler Burrow returned the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown to give Central an instant 7-0 lead.
“All year, I’ve been waiting to return a kickoff for a touchdown,” Burrow said. “I used to do it all the time in Little League, and my teammates always bring up how I haven’t had one in a while. So, I saw a gap and hit it hard and knew nobody was gonna catch me.”
The Comets recovered a fumble on their second possession but were unable to capitalize and turn that turnover into points.
Jacob Shoven intercepted Watseka quarterback Drew Wittenborn late in the first quarter.
“Our coach wanted four turnovers tonight,” Shoven said. “And we got six. So, I think he’ll be happy about that.”
Shoven’s pick set up a Jay Lemenager 28-yard touchdown run with just 55 seconds left in the game’s opening quarter to push Central’s lead to 13-0.
Senior safety Trevor Meier intercepted Wittenborn to give the Comets defense their third takeaway of the first quarter.
Watseka got some momentum early in the second quarter when cornerback Max Rigsby intercepted Lemenager, but the Comets defense made yet another play. This time, it was lineman Caleb Toberman who intercepted Wittenborn and stormed into the end zone — giving the Comets a commanding 19-point lead three minutes into the second quarter.
The Comets blitzed a defensive back off the edge, and Wittenborn just tried to get rid of the ball, resulting in Toberman’s pick-six.
“During the week, our interior defensive lineman practiced defending the screen by sending our d-end hard and dropping our tackle,” Toberman said. “My first thought was don’t fumble. My second thought was don’t get tackled short of the goal line.”
The Comets defense forced four turnovers in the first 15 minutes of play. Central was able to stop the run and make Watseka one dimensional in the passing game.
The Comets defense forced turnover No. 5 on Watseka’s first possession of the second half on Caden Perry’s interception.
Central drove downfield and scored on 4th down and six from the seven-yard line when Lemanager rolled out to the left side of the field and then scrambled to the right and completed a jump ball to Shoven in the corner of the endzone, extending the Comets lead to 26-0 with just over seven minutes left in the third quarter.
“Before we broke the huddle, I told J (Lemenager) if he didn’t have anything to throw it up to me,” Shoven said. “And he did. The jump ball is my favorite play.”
Centrals defense struck again late in the third quarter, forcing their sixth turnover when linebacker Garrett Graham intercepted Wittenborn and housed the pick for a touchdown to make the score 33-0.
Jameson Cluver broke a 76-yard run halfway through the third quarter to put the Warriors in scoring territory, setting up Connor Curry’s touchdown plunge from three yards out, cutting the score to 33-7. But it wasn’t enough to spur a comeback.
“I thought our defense played outstanding, it was nice to see them step up and score twice,” said Central head coach Brian Spooner. “And good for the kids. They had been feeling down about their defensive performance lately. We got stops when we needed to and really answered the bell tonight. If it weren’t for a couple of plays late, we would be looking at some really gaudy numbers defensively.
The Comets will play Paxton-Buckley-Loda at home next Friday at 7. The Warriors will play Seneca at home next Friday at 7 in SVC action.