Amboy rolls past Polo, into I8FA state title game

Clippers score early, often to earn second straight berth in championship game

Amboy’s Landon Whelchel fights for yards against Polo Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023 during a semifinal 8-man football game in Polo.

POLO – Amboy-LaMoille-Ohio and Polo looked to set the tone early in Saturday afternoon’s Illinois 8-Man Football Association state semifinal.

It was the Clippers that got the upper hand, scoring on its first four possessions in a 40-6 victory that earned them a berth in the state title game for the second straight season.

“We’ve been practicing for state since June, all year basically, looking for another shot at it,” senior tailback Landon Whelchel said. “To go back to state and be able to get a redo after what happened last year [in the title game loss], it just feels amazing.”

Amboy (12-0) recovered a Polo fumble on the first play of the game and cashed it in for a touchdown. Then, taking over at their 10 and 1-yard lines the next two times they touched the ball, the Clippers used big plays to get out of the shadow of their end zone on both series and ended up with 90- and 99-yard touchdown drives for a 22-0 lead less than 20 minutes into the game.

“We knew we didn’t want to have a slow start like we did last week, and we knew that obviously they’ve got one of the best players in 8-man football in Brock Soltow, so we knew the keys were stopping him, starting off fast, and just never looking back,” senior tight end Brennan Blaine said. “We were really nervous coming into this game, but once we got on the field, that all went away. We just played our game and let our game do the talking.”

Polo’s Delo Fernandez is tackled by Landon Montavon (left) and Cody Winn Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023 during a semifinal 8-man football game in Polo.

The Marcos (10-3) drove into the red zone on two of their first four possessions, but stalled out both times. And every time they couldn’t find the end zone, the Clippers did the next time they touched the ball.

“We would get some good plays, and then they’d stuff us and put us behind the chains again,” Polo coach Ted Alston said. “The turnovers hurt us, some mental mistakes hurt us. ... And once they get going, they feed off of that momentum.”

Polo’s Carter Merdian fires a pass against Amboy Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023 during a semifinal 8-man football game in Polo.

Landen Brooks boomed a 65-yard punt after a Marcos three-and-out, pinning the Clippers at their 1-yard line. But Whelchel’s 51-yard run on the second play put the ball just past midfield, and Leffelman capped the nine-play drive with a 1-yard scoring plunge for a 22-0 lead with 8:34 left before halftime.

“Those long drives are so big. It takes away the momentum that they have, it takes away their will when you punch them in the mouth like that,” Leffelman said. “We have such a good team, and whoever’s hands we put the ball in, we feel confident in their ability and what they’re going to do with it.”

The Clippers marched 50 yards in 11 plays on the opening series of the second half, with Leffelman again crashing in from 1 yard out for a 34-0 lead.

Amboy’s Quinn Leffelman punches it in for a TD against Polo Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023 during a semifinal 8-man football game in Polo.

Klein recovered a fumble on a confusing play to end Polo’s next drive; one official seemingly called Delo Fernandez down, but he was overruled and an inadvertent whistle was called after Klein had come up with the ball.

The fired-up Marcos forced a three-and-out, then drove to the Amboy 28-yard line in 13 plays before stalling out; the Clippers answered with a 52-yard scoring strike from Jones to Blaine to make it 40-0 with 8:10 remaining.

“Those big plays were huge. It’s all about the play call, and Eddie made some beautiful throws; he was on fire all day, and all I had to do was catch it,” Blaine said.

Amboy’s Brennan Blaine hauls in a pass against Polo’s Billy Lowry Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023 during a semifinal 8-man football game in Polo.

Polo avoided the shutout when Fernandez got loose for a 59-yard touchdown sprint on third down of the Marcos’ final series.

“I’m just glad the season didn’t end in a shutout. I’m glad we all stayed and fought as hard as we could to the very last second,” Fernandez said. “It started off rough, and I feel like that kind of set the tone for the game. We had to fight back from that.”

Fernandez finished with 129 yards on 17 carries, and Soltow capped his stellar career with 115 yards on 17 rushes to go with 33 yards passing. Soltow amassed more than 6,600 yards (5,423 rushing, 703 receiving, 542 passing) and 104 total touchdowns.

“It’s a pride thing, and for Delo to be able to score that touchdown is great. He’s such a great kid and he’s been such a great teammate, and Brock gives you everything he’s got all the time,” Alston said. “Our seniors are just great kids, and we’re going to miss them. ... They were freshmen when I came back to coach, and it’s kind of a special group.”

Polo’s Brock Soltow picks up big yards against Amboy Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023 during a semifinal 8-man football game in Polo.

Whelchel rushed 25 times for 224 yards and a touchdown, while Blaine caught all four of Jones’ completions for 175 yards and two scores. Leffelman added 10 carries for 28 yards and three TDs as the Clippers will look to avenge last year’s title-game loss next Friday night at Monmouth College.

“It means a lot to get the chance again,” Leffelman said. “I think we know what we’ve got to do this week in practice, and we know what we’ve got to do on Friday night. It’s what we’ve been working toward, and all the sweat and hard work we put in, this is the week that it’s for. We’re coming.”