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AMBOY — The Amboy-LaMoille football team had Illinois Class 2A’s No. 1 ranked Mercer County on the ropes in the fourth quarter of their quarterfinal playoff battle Saturday in Amboy.
Senior quarterback Tyson Powers had completed a 6-yard touchdown pass to junior Jordan Ernst and then followed it up with a fake field goal for a two-point conversion strike to junior Damon Quest for a one-point lead with 7:28 left on the clock.
A Class 2A semifinal berth seemed to be minutes away for the Clippers (9-3) as the game’s momentum rested on their side of the ball.
Then coach Gary Jones’ biggest concern came true as A-L gave up the game changer and the game, 33-21.
“We took this team to the wire. It was a good football game, a very good football game,” Jones said. “We got the two-point conversion to go ahead by one (21-20). We didn’t give up the big play all game, but that’s what we were worried about is the big play, and they finally got one at the end.”
The Golden Eagles (12-0) used five plays to move the ball 25 yards for two first downs.
Then the big one came as Mercer County senior quarterback Tanner Matlick threw a short pass to senior Devin Morford, who took it 50-yards for the score.
It was the longest play the Clippers allowed during the game and only the fourth of more than 20 yards.
“I thought our defense played well,” Jones said. “We knew coming in that they’re a good passing team and we were going to give up some yardage (by them) throwing the ball. (Matlick’s) a very good quarterback.
“They got the little hitch passes out there on us — the stop and gos — to kind of hurt us. ”
Down 26-21 with 4:23 left to play, A-L was forced to negate the game-long strategy of running the ball and go to the pass, which the Clippers had only done four times prior.
Mercer County senior defensive back Austin Rooth read the A-L screen pass on the sideline and returned an interception 46 yards for a touchdown.
Three plays later, A-L was picked off again to seal the game.
The Clippers weren’t able to break the front line for a large gain of their own, but ran the ball the way they intended.
“Most of our runs were long drives — what we wanted to do the entire time, what we strive for,” senior running back Cooper Nelson said. “That’s what our offense is about. I think everyone ran their best and physically ran the ball down their throats. We just had trouble passing.”
Nelson and senior backfield mate Spencer Johnson handled 30 of the Clippers 49 running plays as A-L had to formulate a ground attack without senior fullback Bailey Appleman, who sat out because of an injury he suffered in the second-round victory against Orion.
Johnson said the offensive line held up their half of the bargain as it was able to hold off the Golden Eagles’ defensive ends from crashing the line. Powers was only sacked once and a Clipper rusher went for negative yards one time also.
“The (offensive line) was doing a real good job. They just kept playing and if they missed a block or didn’t do their assignment, they’d go and get the next guy,” Johnson said.
Nelson ran for 53 yards on 15 carries and Johnson ran for 63 yards on the same amount of touches. Both were able to get into the end zone. Powers gained 17 yards on nine attempts on the ground to add to his 5-of-7 passing for 86 yards and a touchdown.
The Clippers finish the season at 9-3 and made it to the quarterfinals after a 4-5 campaign last year.
“We set the bar back to where we’ve had it before with the tradition of making it this far and trying to keep the season alive as long as we can — leaving it all on the field,” Johnson said.
Brandon LaChance can be reached at 220-6939, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_LaChance.
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