COAL CITY — Coal City started the Class 4A football playoffs by allowing more points (20) to Peotone in the first round than it had in any game all season.
Not only did the Coalers allow Peotone to score, they also allowed the Blue Devils to pile up 234 rushing yards on 56 carries using an option offense the Coalers had seen before and felt they matched up well against. And Peotone finished a yard short, literally, of scoring a last-second touchdown that could have either forced overtime or sunk the Coalers in a game they won 27-20.
The Coalers knew a better defensive effort would be key in their second-round game at Geneseo, and they delivered one. They held Geneseo to 192 total yards, including just 132 rushing yards on 40 carries, and did not allow a defensive touchdown in a 12-10 victory.
"We just shut down pretty much everything they threw at us," Coal City safety Colin Anderson said of the Maple Leafs. "They tried a lot of sweeps, and they didn't get much on those. When they ran up the middle, there wasn't much there. Our D-line stepped up and caused some collapses in their blocking, and the guys behind them made the tackles."
Years ago, almost every team in the Coalers' conference, the Interstate Eight, featured run-heavy, option attacks. That is less true today, but the Coalers still faced enough Wing-T formations to feel prepared for what Geneseo threw at them Saturday.
"We saw that offense a lot this year, so we felt confident we could stop it," Coal City defensive lineman Matt Burchfield said. "Peotone played well against us, but I don't think we played our best. I know that I personally struggled in that game. For us to come back and hold them to just one field goal as a defense was huge."
Making the Coalers' defensive stinginess at Geneseo even more impressive, in a sense, is the fact that they forced no turnovers. Of the Maple Leafs' eight offensive possessions, five resulted in punts, one in a made field goal, one in a missed field goal and one in a failed fourth-down conversion attempt.
Defensive lineman Terry Blondin and linebacker Colton Manietta recorded sacks during the game. Blondin, defensive back Dylan Hakey and linebackers Nate Natyshok and Kolton Powell had tackles for losses. Natyshok was the leading tackler with 12 total stops, including nine unassisted.
"We basically went back to fundamentals — staying low with our pad level, staying disciplined. Our kids got refocused in Round 2," Coal City head coach Lenny Onsen, who calls the defense, said. "I give all the credit to Peotone for being extremely well prepared."
On the season, Blondin's 48 solo tackles and 36 assists are both team highs. Burchfield is the team leader in sacks with seven. Cornerback Jake Czaja has the team-lead in tackles for losses with four, and his twin brother, Michael, has recovered a team-high three fumbles. Hakey, Natyshok and Powell share the Coalers' lead in interceptions with two each.
Those combined efforts have resulted in the Coalers allowing just 100 points in their 11 games this season. Only 27 teams in the state have been stingier, and of those teams, only 16 have played 11 games, as the Coalers have. Of the seven other teams remaining in 4A, only their next opponent, Alleman, has allowed fewer points (96) than the Coalers.
"It's what we've been doing all season," Hakey said after the Geneseo game. "We watch film, know what our opponents like to do, then come step up and stop it."