CHILLICOTHE — After a 20-point lead vanished in a flash, a young Illinois Valley Central football team faced a crossroads.
Dazed but not confused, the Grey Ghosts bounced back and posted a 33-28 homecoming victory Friday against Rantoul at Taylor Field.
IVC (2-4, 2-4) raced to a 20-0 lead in the first half, behind the ground game of junior Ethan Kempf, sophomore Alex Fulton and sophomore quarterback Alex Merlo.
But a 32-yard pass play followed by a 3-yard touchdown run from Angelo Brown 49 seconds before intermission pulled Rantoul within 20-6.
A 77-yard TD run by Brown on the first play of the the third quarter, coupled with a four-play, 64-yard drive that ended in a 1-yard plunge by Taveous Bell, and Rantoul led 21-20 three minutes into the second half.
“We knew they had athletes in the backfield, and if they got out, we’d be limited in our speed to catch them,” IVC coach Tim Heinz said. “They got out a couple times, but our guys didn’t give up, didn’t put their heads down.”
After Rantoul took the lead, IVC marched 69 yards to regain the lead less than five minutes later. A pair of 15-yard penalties on Rantoul, one on a facemask penalty and the other for unsportsmanlike conduct, aided the drive.
Kempf, who finished the night with 111 yards rushing on 20 carries, put the final touches on the drive with a 6-yard TD run on a third-and-1 play after an IVC timeout. The Ghosts missed the extra point, but went up 26-21.
“He said, ‘I want the ball,’” Heinz said of Kempf.
Fulton, who added 101 yards rushing, capped a 47-yard, fourth-quarter drive with a 4-yard TD run to put IVC up 33-21.
“I’m so happy we won homecoming night. I’ve been waiting for this night all year. We put up a good fight against Rantoul.”
The win didn’t come without a little more drama, as Eric Cole went 75 yards to score with 5:45 left to pull Rantoul within 33-28. The Eagles recovered an onside kick, but could not get a first down. The Grey Ghosts were able to run out the clock for the Illini Prairie Conference win.
“From Week 1 to now, we’ve improved every week,” Heinz said. “They responded and our offense got some stuff going and our defense got a stop.”
IVC finished with 314 yards rushing, to go along with 61 yards passing from Merlo. Kempf and Fulton each had 13-yard TD runs and Merlo a 6-yarder for IVC's 20-0 first-half lead.
Rantoul ended with 317 yards rushing, led by 150 from Brown.
“The guys made some really big plays to fight and get us back into it,” Rantoul coach Tom Hess said. “I'm really proud of the effort that they put forth to come in here and compete.”
Stan Morris can be reached at 686-3214 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @stanmorrispjs