After sophomore speedster Jack Dibble was lost for the season with a knee injury, both coach Lenny Onsen and quarterback Brennan Shetina didn’t know who would replace his efforts.
Each and every week, Matt Burchfield is answering that question.
Burchfield had just three catches, but he made all of them count in a 28-7 Interstate Eight victory over Peotone, clinching a playoff berth in the process for the Coalers.
Tied at 7 in the second quarter, Shetina found Burchfield on third-and-9 for a 29-yard gain as he tip-toed the sideline, much like last week’s crucial play versus Plano, to the 13-yard-line, setting up a Dylan Hakey 12-yard touchdown run two plays later.
Burchfield’s next catch didn’t result in a touchdown, but his 22-yard snag helped gain field position to set-up a short field on the next drive, resulting in a Ryland Tondini 7-yard run and a 21-7 lead with 9:49 remaining in the fourth.
“He proved himself by making a big play last week,” Shetina, a junior, said of Burchfield, who finished with 63 yards receiving. “Now every time we need a big play, I’m going to keep going to him.”
“We’ve been talking about who’s going to be that guy to step up and make a play when we need it all year,” Onsen added. “Hopefully Matt, being a senior, will start doing that. He made a couple nice catches tonight.”
Jake Czaja came up with a big catch of his own, prior to Tondini’s run. Unfortunately for Peotone, Czaja plays defense.
With 2:07 remaining in the third, Czaja, simultaneously with the receiver, caught Peotone’s pass in the midst of a third quarter that saw the Coalers at a 19-4 play differential. Making sure there would be no controversy, Czaja ripped the ball out of the receiver’s hands at the 29-yard line.
“We were just trying to make a big play, and it was getting into scoring time again,” Onsen said. “We seemed flat before that play. It was frustrating. You just hope things go in your favor, and it did there.”
Not to be outdone, Jake’s twin brother Michael made a defensive play of his own.
After the Blue Devils fell on the kickoff at their own 5-yard line, Michael came off a weak-side blitz, forcing a fumble at the Peotone 4-yard line. Two plays later, Mark Norton gave the Coalers a 28-7 lead with 9:02 remaining in the game.
Peotone’s quickness was cause for concern coming in for Onsen and his defense. But the Coalers defense pitched a shutout, as Peotone’s lone score came on a blocked punt in the end zone in the second quarter.
“I was very concerned coming in. They’re one of the quicker teams that we’ve seen in the last few weeks,” Onsen said. “I thought we played downhill extremely well. We were able to get to the ball-carrier and make some plays.”
Not allowing Peotone to regain momentum, whether it was via the offense or defense, is something Onsen was hoping to see.
“We really wanted to establish ourselves as a playoff-type football team,” Onsen said. We’re winning games 7-0, winning 14-7. We have to start scoring more and getting away from these one-score games. You do it if you have to, but you want to try to finish a team off and that’s what we worked on today.”
Shetina finished 10-15 for 113 yards, and 42 yards and a touchdown on the ground.