CLIFTON — Every first-year head coach’s dream is to begin their legacy with a win, but when it came to first-year head coach Jason Thiele and the Raiders, that dream ended quickly as Iroquois West fell to Central 42-0 in the opening weekend of this year’s shortened football season on Friday night.
The Comets got things started right at kickoff with an opening drive that resulted in an 8-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jay Lemenager to wide receiver Chandler Burrow on a screen pass for an early 6-0 lead
“I’m very proud with the way my team played tonight,” Central coach Brian Spooner said. “That opening drive was key, I felt if we got the ball first we needed to go down and score.”
Not even a full minute later the Comets were back into the end zone.
Iroquois West quarterback Ty Pankey fumbled the snap inside the Raiders’ own 20-yard line which allowed strong safety Grant Grider to pick it up for a scoop-and-score to make it a 12-0 ballgame five minutes in.
“I think when we scored the second touchdown off the Raiders turnover it kind of gave us a little bit of breathing room and let our kids relax a bit,” Spooner said.
With the game already seemingly getting out of hand early, Thiele made the decision to go for it on 4th-and-3 on Central’s 34-yard line. It resulted in starting running back Auston Miller getting stuffed a yard short for a turnover on downs, something that happened early and often.
After giving up two touchdowns in the opening quarter, The Raiders defense finally stepped up and forced a punt and a turnover on downs on Central’s next two possessions following its own turnover on downs.
Pankey connected with Jaeton Schacht for 14 yards on 3rd-and-4 and the Raiders started showing life until a Miller fumble gave the Comets the ball back with just over two minutes left in the half. Central made the Raiders pay when Lemenager faked a bubble screen and found a wide-open Jacob Shoven for a 42-yard score to put an early end to things.
“Lemenager was scrambling for a while, but our line gave him enough time and he was able to roll out and got me the ball and I made a play there by cutting in the middle and then running my tail off to the end zone,” Shoven said.
After taking a 20-0 lead at halftime the Comets relied on their playmakers in Shoven and Burrow, who combined for three second-half touchdowns and a forced fumble, to finish the job.
Shoven got free for another 60-yard touchdown after a punt by the Raiders to begin the second half. Shortly after, Burrow laid Miller out on a tackle to force another fumble by the starting running back, giving Shoven another scoring opportunity thanks to a 25-yard dime from Lemenager.
“Shoven and Burrow are special kids that are so fast and athletic and so it’s really hard for opposing teams to stay with them one-on-one,” Spooner said. “I’m glad they are on our team and they have proven time and time again when we need big play they are there for it.”
Central coasted on a 34-0 lead heading into the fourth quarter before it put the finishing touches on the Raiders with a 50-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Burrow with about 11 minutes left. It gave the Comets a 42-0 lead and allowed for a running clock before their defense was able to complete the shut out.
“I was extremely proud of our defense,” Spooner said. “To get a shutout at any level is hard… and so I loved the way we attacked the line of scrimmage and I loved how physical we played. It’s so encouraging to see right now I can’t be any happier with the way the defense played.”
Central’s Lemenager threw for 304 yards with five touchdowns and zero picks. Shoven added a team-high 185 receiving yards and three scores. Burrow caught four passes for 73 yards and two touchdowns, including a 50-yarder in the fourth.
Central (1-0) returns home in another Sangamon Valley Conference matchup against Seneca Friday at 7 p.m. Iroquois West (0-1) will have another SVC road game at Dwight at the same time.