CLIFTON — Central’s football team didn’t want it any other way. When the Comets took the field for their final game of the season Friday night, the only team that stood between them and their fourth-straight Sangamon Valley Conference title was arch rivals Watseka.
The Warriors proved to be the ultimate test, and thanks to a recovered onside kick, nearly spoiled the Comets’ plans, but in the end, Central rose to the occassion and got that fourth-straight title in the SVC’s final season, as quarterback Jay Lemenager found Caden Perry for a game-winning touchdown with 11 seconds left in Friday’s 42-35 Central victory, ending the conference with their 24th-straight conference win, including a 6-0 season this spring.
“Tonight was a great effort by great kids, on both sides of the field,” said hall of fame head coach Brian Spooner. “I know Watseka would have loved to beat us, but their kids have nothing to hand their heads about. They fought until the end.
“And so did our kids. Both teams made big plays all game, we were fortunate enough to make the last one. It wasn’t necessarily the way we drew it up, but I’ll certainly take the result.”
The Comets were spearheaded by Lemenager’s 247 passing yards and two passing touchdowns while adding 134 yards with his legs with one touchdown. Lemenager, who committed to play football NCAA Division III powerhouse Mount Union on Thursday, led the Comets down the field with his legs before Jacob Shoven found the endzone on a jet sweep to put his team up 6-0.
The Warriors responded with a touchdown drive of their own when quarterback Drew Wittenborn connected with receiver Brayden Haines for a 10-yard touchdown to give Watseka a 7-6 lead.
In the second quarter, Logan Beherns rumbled into the endzone from a dozen yards out to put the Comets back up top 12-7.
On Watseka’s next possession, quarterback Drew Wittenborn found Brayden Haines again, this time on a fade route for a 50-yard touchdown, putting the Warriors up 14-12 at halftime.
Chandler Burrow broke a 23-yard touchdown run up the middle on Central’s first possession of the second half to put the Comets back up top 20-14.
Running back Conner Curry broke free for a 31-yard touchdown with 21 seconds left in the third quarter, giving the Warriors a 21-20 lead entering the game’s final quarter.
The lead changed once again when Burrow caught a seven-yard touchdown pass from Lemenager to take a 28-21 lead.
Lemanger took off for a 21-yard touchdown run with 2:21 left in the game to give the Comets a two-score lead before the Warriors made a furious comeback with their backs against the wall.
Curry scored his second touchdown of the night on the ground less than a minute later to cut the score to 35-27, and that’s just when things reached an even higher degree of crazy.
After recovering the onside kick on the next play, Wittenborn went up top to Haines for 47 yards and his third touchdown of the game to make the score 35-33 with just 41 ticks left on the clock. Curry converted the two-point conversion to tie the game.
After a big return from Burrow, Lemenager completed a 37-yard pass to Caden Perry to give the Comets first and goal. Two plays later, Perry caught the game-winning touchdown pass with 11 seconds left to secure Clifton’s undefeated season.
With the loss, the Watseka Warriors ended the season with a 4-2 record overall and 4-2 in the SVC.
“We’re thankful for the opportunity to play this year. We wish we could play more. We wish there was a postseason,” said Watseka coach Aaron Hilgendorf. “But we’re happy to get our six games in. We were looking forward to this game all season once we got the schedule. Tonight was a battle and Central came out on top, but I’m proud of our guys’ effort and the way everyone stuck together all year.”
Perry finished with six grabs for 91 yards and a touchdown. Burrow caught four balls for 41 yards and a touchdown while adding 27 more on the ground and another touchdown. Lemenager finished his career Friday as Clifton Central’s all-time leader in passing yards, amassing over 5000 yards through the air. Shoven rewrote the record books as well, ending his career as the school’s all-time leader in catches, receiving yards, and touchdown receptions.
For Watseka, Wittenborn finished 16-for-31 passing for 234 yards and three touchdowns. Haines caught 10 passes for 182 yards and three touchdowns. Curry led the Warriors with 159 yards on 27 attempts and two touchdowns.