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Battle of first-year schools goes Eastern’s way, 40-19

A few nerves before a sporting event can be a good thing to get the adrenal gland going and boost the energy levels. Too many nerves, however, can have just the opposite effect and hinder the athlete or team.
It was the latter for Crawford County in its debut varsity football game against Eastern (Pekin) Friday night as the Wolfpack suffered a 40-19 defeat at the hands of the host Musketeers. Eastern was also participating in its first varsity football contest.
‘We were nervous and had butterflies,’ Crawford coach Brian Ruble said. ‘It looked like what we didn’t expect. We’ve been prepared and had practiced well. We came over here and looked like deer in the headlights.’
Crawford won the opening coin toss and elected to receive the ball. Evan Crecelius ran for the Wolfpack’s first varsity first down on the second play, moving the ball to the 41-yard line. The next two plays were costly, as both went for losses, forcing Crawford to punt.
Eastern wasted no time getting on the board. On the team’s first play, quarterback Nate Wade hit receiver Dalton Tankersly for a 57-yard gain and a first down. On the fourth play of the series, the Musketeers hit pay dirt, as Thomas Montgomery went into the end zone from two yards.
The Wolfpack went three-and-out on their next possession. The Musketeers, however, had different luck on their next drive, as they pushed the ball to the Wolfpack five-yard-line on six plays. From there, Steve McDermott went into the end zone on a running play. McDermott’s extra point pushed the lead to 14-0.
Crawford wouldn’t be blanked for much longer, however, as it took the Wolfpack only two plays on their next drive to get their first score. After Crecelius returned Eastern’s kickoff to the 48-yard line, the Crawford junior then took the ball on the next play down the left side of the field into the end zone. Crawford missed the extra point, but Eastern’s lead was cut to 14-6.
‘That first quarter, we got shell-shocked, and it got us on our heels,’ Ruble said. ‘After that first quarter, we settled down and were playing a little bit better.’
Following their two scores in the first period, the Musketeers gained not only confidence but momentum, scoring twice more in the second period. Early in the period, Wade drilled a 19-yard pass to Tankersly for a score. Crawford had one big defensive stop when Zach Sturgeon had a near interception on a Wade pass to Uriah Maudlin, stopping the sure touchdown. However, on the next play, the Musketeers stung Crawford as Wade slid a 34-yard pass to Montgomery for a 27-6 halftime lead.
‘We’ve talked to them the whole time, and we’ve worked on it,’ Ruble said. ‘(In the scrimmage) Tell City ran two screens. One was dropped and one was successful for a touchdown … , and we told them, ‘Pekin is going to have one in. Be ready for it.’ Well, they got caught up in a pass rush, and there it went.’
Eastern struck again early in the third period, with Wade scoring on a 52-yard keeper play. McDermott’s extra point then pushed the Eastern lead to 34-6.
Crawford came back later to score again, as Crecelius went in from 12 yards out. But the Wolfpack missed the extra point, and the score was 34-12.
In the fourth quarter, both teams scored again. Wade lateraled the ball to Montgomery from 11 yards out to give the Musketeers their last touchdown of the night and a 40-12 lead.
Crawford’s last touchdown came near the end of the game as freshman Andrew Douglas went in the end zone on a one-yard run, making the final score 40-19.
Ruble called the evening a ‘learning game.’
‘It’s more of a learning game in the way of varsity speed and stepping up at the varsity level,’ he said. ‘You learn how hard you’ve got to play, how hard you’re going to get hit and how hard you need to hit. It’s just little things like that. We’ll look at the process and take it step by step, even if it’s baby steps.
‘We’ve got a lot of things to work on,’ he said. ‘A lot of it is little things. People don’t understand how little it is. One foot, one inch, one way or another, and we have a tackle. Instead, they break an arm tackle and score a touchdown.’
Crecelius led the Wolfpack with 162 rushing yards on 26 carries, and quarterback Casey Benham added 25 yards on eight carries. Benham completed 11 of 19 passes for 99 yards. Chris Newton had two receptions for 45 yards, and Kaleb Wyman had one reception for 20 yards and a fumble recovery. The Wolfpack had 202 yards on the ground and 99 yards in the air for 301 yards of total offense.
Defensively, Newton had three tackles, six assists, a fumble recovery and a knockdown. James Massengale had three tackles and four assists, while D.J. Cunningham had two tackles and five assists. Crawford had eight penalties for 40 yards, and Eastern lost 140 yards on 13 penalties.
‘Evan played extremely well,’ Ruble said. ‘He had a lot of heart the whole entire game. He made mistakes just like everybody else, but he kind of made up for those mistakes when you play as hard as what he did.
‘We had some other boys that really stepped up. Andrew Douglas, a freshman, came in against their first string and absolutely threw some blocks and ran the ball hard. James Massengale came in at linebacker and absolutely blew some stuff up. We’ve seen some good things out of some younger kids that came in.’
Ruble said his team needs work on both sides of the line.
‘We’ve got a lot of work on that front line, and we’re going to get there. It’s just a process. It’s just going to take a little while to get there,’ he said.
Eastern ‘had three or four big plays that absolutely killed us and turned the momentum right over to them,’ Ruble said. ‘We’ve just got to do things right and do better. It’s just going to be a matter of us, our upper classmen, coming out and playing hard next week, and stepping up and making some plays.’
The Wolfpack’s first conference game comes Friday when they visit Springs Valley.
‘It’s another football game,’ Ruble said. ‘It’s going to be another game, even though it’s over there. We need to just go out and do execution and be disciplined. If we have a breakdown in a play and get upset at themselves, then another bad play will happen. You can’t let it culminate. You have to be disciplined, and we’re going to work on that this week.
‘We’re going to get there and win some games this year,’ he said. ‘It’s just going to take us a little while.’