Sports -- Hearts football

Effingham’s Terrence Hill (42) ran for 199 yards, scored three touchdowns, intercepted a pass and had two long kickoff returns, including a 91-yard return for a TD.

By Steve Raymond
News Report Staff
Coach Brett Hefner used that word about 15 times during his post-game interview Friday night.
But after what transpired in Taylorville, it was absolutely the right word.
For the second straight week, the Effingham Hearts fell way behind early and appeared headed for their second straight loss to open the season.
And like the week before, the Hearts made a gallant comeback.
Unlike the first week, this determined EHS squad was not going to be denied. Against seemingly insurmountable odds, the Hearts scored in a variety of ways – blocked punt, kickoff return, interception return, a field goal and four touchdowns — forced five second half turnovers that set up two short scoring drives and finally put together a long, sustained drive on their final possession.
When the final horn sounded, there were stunned fans on both sides of the field and a deliriously happy group of Hearts celebrating in the end zone by the scoreboard that read: Effingham 50; Taylorville 37.
“I’m so proud of you,” Coach Hefner shouted to his team just moments after the Apollo Conference opener ended. “This was an unbelievable win.”
And after the first 11½ minutes of the game, a most improbable win.
The Tornadoes struck early, often and quickly. Their first two possessions lasted a total of 21 seconds. They consisted of two plays – a 73-yard touchdown pass and an 86-yard strike. Junior quarterback Brandon Odam and junior receiver Justin Wright were unstoppable – in the first half.
It’s rare for a receiver to gain 300 yards in a game. Wright had 298 at the end of the first quarter; 365 by halftime. He added 68-yard and 30-yard scoring catches in the first quarter and had 10 total catches at intermission.
In high school football, you don’t see many quarterbacks throw for 400 yards in a game. Odam had 337 yards passing in the first 15 minutes and had racked up 427 by halftime.
From strictly an offensive yardage standpoint, it was total domination. At intermission, the Tornadoes had 430 yards, while the Hearts had 68.
But in football, yards aren’t the only statistic that counts.
Remember last week when there was a “rest of the story?” Well guess what? There’s another one this week.
Yes, the Hearts were being dominated. But they found other ways to stay in the game.
After pinning the Tornadoes back near their own goal line, Braden Hasty broke through and blocked a punt, which was recovered in the end zone by Jarrett Jones to make it 14-7 midway through the opening period.
Then after Taylorville scored to make it 24-7, Terrence Hill took the ensuing kickoff, started up the right side, sprinted clear across the field and raced 91 yards for a touchdown.
Before the half was over, the Hearts finally mounted some offense, driving 43 yards in 14 plays. Quarterback Landon Wolfe hit three straight passes – one to Lucas Vasquez and two to Jacob Miller – and Hill gained 28 tough yards on eight carries.
When the drive stalled, Danny Hortenstine – who had a good kicking night – booted a 35-yard field goal.
As hard as it was to believe, the Hearts ended the half trailing only 24-17.
While momentum was firmly entrenched on the Taylorville sideline for most of the first 30 minutes, it started creeping across the field toward the end of the half. And when Kody Line intercepted an Odam pass and returned it 37 yards for the game-tying score at the 9:07 mark of the third period, “Ole Mo” was wearing red and white and stalking the Effingham sideline.
Effingham’s Logan Brown recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, but the Hearts were unable to move the ball. But on Taylorville’s second play, Hill stepped in front of an Odam pass and returned the interception to the four yard line. Two plays later, Wolfe kept the snap and dove in from one yard out. Hortenstine kicked the extra point and the Hearts found themselves on top, 31-24, with 5:42 to go in the third period.
But before Effingham fans could sit back down, Taylorville’s Evan Champley got in the act. A year ago, Champley was the workhorse in Taylorville’s 28-19 win over EHS. Odam was injured and couldn’t play, so the Tornadoes attempted just one pass in the entire game and ran the ball every other play. Champley carried the ball 19 times and gained 160 yards on a rainy night in Effingham.
After getting just five carries in the first half Friday night, Champley took a hand-off and began to sweep around the left end. Finding that bottled up and after breaking a couple tackles, he reversed his field, got around the corner and rambled 65 yards for the score that tied the game once again, 31-31.
The Hearts were stopped on their next possession, but when Jordan Moats fumbled the punt, Effingham’s Kendall Ballman was there to recover it. The Tornadoes were also flagged for a personal foul on the play, and EHS got the ball at the 10 yard line. Two plays later, Wolfe connected with Logan Smith for a seven-yard TD and the Hearts were on top, 37-31.
But, again, here came the Tornadoes. A 48-yard pass from Odam to Michael Durbin set up a one-yard scoring run by Odam that tied the score again.
From that point on, however, it was all Effingham.
Hill, who ran for 258 yards the week before, had been bottled up for much of the game by Taylorville’s defense. He had just 36 yards in the first half and 52 total heading into the Hearts’ next possession. On the first play, he bolted for 11 yards. On the next, he broke loose and out-ran everybody for a 50-yard touchdown on the final play of the third quarter.
Taylorville was then forced to punt and the Hearts put together their best drive of the game. It started at their own 25 with 11:09 to play. With Hill doing the bulk of the work, EHS put together a 17-play drive – all on the ground – and ate up nine minutes off the clock.
The Hearts faced four crucial plays on the drive — one fourth down and three third down situations. Each time, Wolfe did a quarterback sneak and got the first down to keep the drive alive. On the 17th play, Hill scooted around the left side and dove into the end zone for the clinching score. When Hortenstine kicked the extra point, the Hearts owned a 50-37 advantage with just 2:05 remaining.
Three plays later, Jordan McCabe picked off Odam for the third time in the second half. EHS ran out the clock and the celebration was on.
“The will of these guys was unbelievable,” Hefner said. “Taylorville threw some knockout punches. But we just kept getting up and getting up. The next thing you know, we won the game – an unbelievable game.”
After surrendering so many yards in the first half, the EHS defense allowed only 156 in the second half; 130 of those on three plays.
“We knew if we let him (Odam) sit back there and throw the ball, he was going to break the state record for passing yards,” Hefner noted. “So we decided to bring pressure on every play. We were man-to-man in the secondary and anybody that wasn’t in coverage was rushing the passer.”
That’s risky strategy, but it worked.
“Taylorville is talented throwing the football,” the EHS coach added. “We were able to get pressure on their quarterback and didn’t give him time to just stand back there and throw. We had people in his face.”
Taylorville finished with 586 yards, while the Hearts finished with 255; 187 of those coming in the second half. Hill finished with 199 yards on 38 carries; 147 of those in the final 15:34.
“I’m so happy for these kids,” Hefner admitted. “They’ve worked so hard to get to this point. They finally got over the jump against an unbelievable team.
“This is our biggest win so far,” said the coach, who is in his third season at EHS. “It was a good one to get, but we’ve got a long ways to go.”
The Hearts, who improved to 1-1 overall and 1-0 in the conference, will play Friday night at Mt. Zion. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.