COAL CITY — Comfortable it was not, but the Coal City Coalers held off Peotone 27-20 Friday night to open the Class 4A football playoffs.
Down 7 with 7:10 to play, the Blue Devils piled up 68 yards and six first downs on a drive that ate up the remainder of the game. Twice the Blue Devils faced fourth down with their playoff lives essentially on the line along the way, and twice they converted.
On fourth and goal from the 5, however, and the final seconds ticking off the clock, Peotone quarterback Jesse Schroeder rolled right and sprinted for the goal line. He was flipped on his back just short.
"One-hundred percent," Coal City coach Lenny Onsen said when asked how confident he was in his defense on the last drive. "The fingers and toes were crossed, but I thought the kids would step up and make a play."
On its opening series of the second half, Coal City went 59 yards in eight plays for its first lead. A 20-yard pass from Brennen Shetina to Lane Cowherd preferred another 20-yarder between the two for a touchdown. Cowherd slowed his stride and came back to win a battle for the ball.
Coal City forced a Peotone three-and-out on its first drive of the half, and a 52-yard Shetina pass to Nick Peters was followed by a 1-yard Shetina touchdown plunge for a 20-12 lead.
Peotone again punted on its next drive, but Trevor Ziebert recovered a fumble to get the Blue Devils back in business. Eight plays later, Bobby Rapson scored from a yard out, and a Jake Rapson conversion run tied the game with 9:20 to play.
Coal City's winning drive was set up by a 44-yard Ryland Tondini kickoff return. Peotone was called for a personal foul following the play, giving the Coalers the ball at the Peotone 29. Runs by Nate Natyshok and Mark Norton produced first downs, and on third and goal from the 3, Lane Cowherd scored.
"That was huge," Onsen said. "Special teams gave us a short field and we knew we had to respond right away."
After the Coalers were stuffed on a fourth-and-1 at the Peotone 33 on their opening drive of the game, the Blue Devils went 67 yards in 13 plays for the game's first touchdown. They picked up a fourth-and-1 along the way, with Danny Beresky plunging forward for 3, and Beresky scored from 16 yards out on a pitch to the right with 2:12 left in the first.
Following punts by both teams, the Coalers took over on the Blue Devils' 33. On third down, Shetina threw to the middle of the field, where Peters cut in front of a defender, caught the ball and ran into the end zone for a 30-yard score.
Peotone answered in the waning seconds of the first half. A 30-yard pass from Schroeder got the Blue Devils deep into Coalers territory, and a 16-yard Beresky run set up first and goal at the 1. Two plays later, Schroeder crossed the goal line on a quarterback sneak, allowing Peotone to take a 12-7 lead into halftime.