Analysis | Friday Night Drive

Eight-man state championship: Title-game loss stings, but Amboy will use it to fuel fire for next year

West Central’s Kaiden Droste is knocked out of bounds by Amboy’s Landon Whelchel Friday, Nov. 18, 2022 in the 8-man championship football game.

MONMOUTH – The tears flowed as freely as the snow flurries on Friday night at April Zorn Memorial Stadium, but the sting for Amboy-LaMoille-Ohio will only be temporary.

After the hurt of the 44-36 loss in the Illinois 8-Man Football Association state championship game to West Central fades, it will likely be replaced by a burning desire to get back to Monmouth College next year.

The Clippers will bring back all but one player from this season’s roster, and already have their sights set on a return trip to the eight-man season finale in 2023.

“That’s the good part about our team is that we’re still kind of young, so next year we’re going to be really playoff experienced,” junior all-state end Brennan Blaine said. “And we’re just going to work hard all offseason and look to be back here next year – and this time, win it.”

Even after falling behind by two touchdowns to start the game, then by 20 points early in the second half, Amboy had its chances. It cut the deficit to six late in the first half and again late in the third quarter, then got within eight in the final few minutes. But the Clippers just couldn’t cap the comeback with a final stop and score.

Amboy’s Austin Heath embraces members of the West Central football team after a hard fought game resulted in a 44-36 win for West Central in the 8-man championship game Friday, Nov. 18, 2022.

As special as the run to the state final was, the loss leaves a hole that Amboy’s players will work hard to fill.

But one of the biggest voids will be the loss of quarterback Tucker Lindenmeyer, who has played his last game for the Clippers. Despite missing six games with a hamstring injury, his senior leadership was still evident as he recuperated and worked hard to rejoin the team for the playoffs.

It’s not the way he nor the way his younger teammates wanted it to end, but the fact that he came back for the postseason run gave the Clippers a boost.

“It was a good season, but obviously, we’re not satisfied. Our goal going into it was to win this game, and we were so close, and it really sucks,” Blaine said. “But it was a great season overall. I’m just sad for Tuck that we had to send him out like this, because he’s never going to have this game back.”

But the experience of playing half the season without their talented dual-threat senior QB – and his confident demeanor and innate ability to run the offense – should help the Clippers be an even stronger force to reckon with next season.

Amboy’s Tucker Lindenmeyer picks up yards Friday, Nov. 18, 2022 in the 8-man championship football game against West Central.

With sophomore Eddie Jones taking the snaps during Lindenmeyer’s absence, that means the only position that would have been left without any returning experience in 2023 will actually have a veteran coming back.

“It’s a really good thing, because we’ll be losing one of our best players, but Eddie can come in and play that role like Tucker does,” junior center Trey Payne said. “I think we’ll be pretty good again next year, because we’re only losing one senior.

Yes, the loss hurts now. But in time, these Clippers will realize that earning the third runner-up finish in program history – joining the 1979 and 1980 teams – is a big accomplishment.

And then the sting will turn into hunger to take it one step further – and that will lead to the hunger it takes to put in the time and effort and hard work necessary to make sure the ultimate goal is achieved next year.

“This is one of the best groups of kids you’re ever going to have. We’ve been playing together since we were in kindergarten or first grade, and just being here is amazing,” junior running back Landon Whelchel said. “But we’re not done. We’re going to come back next year and work harder, play tougher. We’re losing one of, if not the best player we have, but we’re going to come back stronger than ever.”