COAL CITY — It was no secret Wilmington and Coal City’s clash Friday likely would come down to which team had the better night running the ball, as the two teams boasted the area’s Top-2 rushers in the Coalers’ Daniel Jezik and the Wildcats’ Jake Rodawold.
By the time the smoke settled Friday, Jezik made it clear he and the Coalers were the top dogs with a 29-14 win.
Jezik had 232 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, outgaining and outscoring the Wildcats by himself, as the Coalers earned a 29-14 home victory against their longtime rivals.
Coal City improved to 8-0 on the season with the win and 6-0 in Illinois Central Eight play, and the Wildcats fell to 7-1 on the season with the loss and 6-1 in ICE play.
“Against a blue-collar team like Wilmington, at times, you have to put your head down,” Jezik said. “And just grind it out and fight for yards.”
Jezik began doing that almost immediately, as he helped lead the Coalers to touchdowns on each of their first three possessions to build an early 21-0 lead.
After a Wildcat three-and-out opened the game, Jezik took five carries for 66 yards on the Coalers’ first drive, capped by a 20-yard rushing score four minutes into the game.
“I can really trust my lineman upfront,” Jezik said. “I know where the blocks are going to be, so it’s easy to read. And then the other part is just keeping my eyes open. It’s not always about trucking through every time, sometimes you gotta dance a little.”
The Wildcats melted nine minutes of clock on its second possession, moving the ball 58 yards on into Coaler territory before a fumble on third-and-two stalled the drive.
Kicker Allan Richards missed a 32-yard field goal to end the drive.
The Coalers got the ball back and Connor Best ripped off a 63-yard run to set up Jezik’s second touchdown of the night, this time on a 5-yard plunge to give Coal City a 14-0 lead with 6:45 remaining in the half.
After forcing another Wildcat punt, the Coalers put together a two-minute drill before half that didn’t even take two minutes, as Payton Hutchings connected with Kyle Burch on a 60-yard touchdown to give Coal City a three-score lead at the half.
“We weren’t trying to go fast, but we were trying to get something before the half ended,” Coal City coach Dan Hutchings said. “We were planning to use our timeouts, but we busted the big play to Burch on the slant, so that was really nice for us.”
The Wildcats fought back and made things interesting in the second half, recovering a fumble on the Coaler’s first play from scrimmage in the second half. Tray Shaw would find the endzone on a three-yard scamper a handful of plays later to cut the lead to 21-7.
Linebacker A.J. Meyers intercepted Hutchings a couple of plays into the Coaler’s next drive to give the Wildcats an opportunity to make it a one-score game. The Cats moved the ball but would eventually punt.
The Coalers settled down and started moving the ball behind Jezik at the end of the third quarter, and less than a minute into the fourth quarter, Jezik scored his third touchdown of the game on a six-yard touchdown run. Jezik would punch in the two-point conversion to make the score 29-7.
The Wildcats went to the air on its next possession, but Keaton Hopwood’s pass was intercepted at the half-yard line by Griffin Johnson.
The Cats showed no quit, however as Matt Sanchez timed up a pitch to Jezik on the next play, causing a fumble that he would fall on for a touchdown to slice the lead to 29-14 with nine minutes remaining in the game.
After the Coalers stopped Wilmington on its next possession, Jezik and company melted away the remaining nine minutes on the clock to seal the win.
Wilmington coach Jeff Reents said the first half wasn’t what it needed to be to get the win.
“We’re disappointed with the result, especially with the way we played in the first half,” Reents said. “We’ll lick our wounds tonight and start getting ready for a tough Peotone team next week.”
Jezik’s 232 yards came on 26 carries. Best had 91 yards on seven carries. Hutchings went 3-for-4 for 75 yards and the 60-yard score to Burch and a pick.
Rodawold had 91 yards to lead the Wildcats. Hopwood added 56 yards on the ground and Shaw had a dozen yards.
Both teams will be at home next week at 7 p.m., the Coalers against Reed-Custer and the Wildcats against Peotone.