One play can change a game. Unfortunately for the East Peoria football team, the play came for Limestone in Friday’s 28-8 loss to the Rockets.
With the Raiders (1-2, 0-1) leading 8-0 in the first quarter, Limestone senior Ryan Thornton blocked an East Peoria punt that led to a Rocket touchdown on the ensuing drive.
The Rockets (3-0, 1-0) erupted for three TD’s over a 2 minute, 58 second span in the second half to pull away for the win, but it was the blocked punt that changed the momentum.
“It was a demoralizing thing for our kids,” East Peoria head coach Kevin Vedell said. “It was a huge momentum changer.”
East Peoria opened the game with a touchdown pass from quarterback Hunter Perdue to Clay Goreth, who also plunged into the end zone for a two-point conversion for an early 8-0 lead.
Limestone took the next 28 points.
“You try to pick them up as much as you can. They understand how big special teams are and the importance of it,” Vedell said. “It’s tough to tell 15- or 16-year-old kids to forget about something. You tell them to, but it’s hard for them to legitimately forget about it.”
Running back Mykah Smith led the way for East Peoria with 64 of the team’s 150 rushing yards.
On the receiving end, Hunter Gill had another big game for the Raiders, coming up with two catches for 40 yards.
Limestone capped off 28 unanswered points with a scoop-and-score 75-yard fumble recovery by Payton Adams in the fourth quarter while the Raiders were driving to extend the lead to 28-8.
Penalties in the second half doomed the Raiders, Vedell said. Rather than third-and-short situations, East Peoria was tasked with overcoming third-and-long situations. The Raiders committed five penalties that cost them 35 yards on Friday.
“I think it was the worst game we played all year and we were still competitive and in the game,” Vedell said.
On defense, cornerback Griffin Hall had a team-high nine tackles and saved several touchdowns, Vedell said.
Vedell’s team understands the battles in the Mid-Illini Conference, despite dropping their conference opener. The game serves as a learning experience for the young Raiders.
“The biggest thing is we are extremely young. There are about five seniors that are seeing time, four sophomores that are starting and the rest are juniors. We’re extremely inexperienced. It hurts, but it’s growing pains. It’s going to happen,” Vedell said.