COAL CITY — For one half, the Coal City offense encountered more frustration than it produced answers as the Coalers fell behind 12-7 to the Peotone Blue Devils.
In the second half, the Coalers had an answer for almost everything the Blue Devils did, as they rallied to win 27-20 in the first round of the Class 4A football playoffs.
Coal City set the tone for the half by driving 59 yards in eight plays on the opening drive. Brennen Shetina passed to Lane Cowherd for a 20-yard gain on third-and-8, and Ryland Tondini broke off a 15-yard run for another first down. Then, on third-and-10 from the Peotone 20, Shetina threw to Cowherd down the right sideline. Cowherd was covered, but he came back to the ball and caught it as he was crossing the goal line.
"It was something we had talked about all week, how we had to make plays as an offense," Shetina said. "I dropped back and saw Lane come open. I threw it up for him, and at first I thought the defender was in position, but he cut in front of him and made a great catch."
Peotone went three-and-out on its first series of the half, and the Coalers followed with another touchdown drive. The key play was a 52-yard pass from Shetina to Nick Peters on third-and-3 that got the Coalers from their own territory to their own 8. A Mark Norton first-down run got them a yard short of the end zone, and Shetina snuck the ball in from there.
"We knew what we had to do," Peters said of the attitude of the Coal City offense entering the second half. "We weren't playing our best (in the first half), but we knew we have done it before. It was either turn it on and make plays and win or go home, so we had to step up. It was now or never."
Coal City's offensive renaissance continued its next drive, as the Coalers picked up two more first downs on runs by Shetina and Norton before Trevor Zeibert of Peotone recovered an Alex Medina fumble to give the Blue Devils a much-needed change in momentum. They cashed in with a Bobby Rapson touchdown run and a Jake Rapson two-point conversion run to tie the game at 20-20.
Again the Coalers had an answer from their offense — with an assist from their special teams. Ryland Tondini returned the resulting Peotone kickoff 44 yards to the Blue Devils 44. A personal-foul penalty at the end of the play — one of just two flags thrown against Peotone, and one of just four all night — allowed the Coalers to start at the 29. Runs by Nate Natyshok for 10 yards and by Norton for 11 got the Coalers to the 8, and three plays later, Norton scored from 3 yards out.
Coal City never got the ball back, meaning its four second-half drives resulted in three touchdowns and a turnover. In the first half, the Coalers scored once, punted once, turned the ball over on downs twice and had their final drive end when time expired. Of the Coalers' 15 first downs, nine came after halftime, as did 173 of their 325 total yards.
"We knew we were close," Shetina said of the first half. "It was just little things, little mistakes that kept us from scoring. Whether it was me missing passes or drops or whatever, we didn't convert enough. We weren't perfect in the second half, but we were a lot better. A lot of those mistakes were cleaned up."