Seneca 0-3, Salt Fork 3-0 after 49-28 Vermilion Valley Football Alliance decision

SENECA – For the third week in a row, the Seneca High football team put forth a respectable effort on the gridiron.

Unfortunately for the Fighting Irish, they ran into a squad in Week 3 that just was amazing in its ability to score swiftly with team speed that was awe-inspiring, as the locals dropped a 49-28, Vermilion Valley Football Alliance crossover contest to Salt Fork on Friday evening in Seneca.

“I’m really proud of our kids’ effort against a very talented offensive team. We came out very slow last week, but tonight I saw a team that can win some games moving forward after hanging with a well-coached Salt Fork squad.”

—  Seneca football coach Terry Maxwell

The Irish fell to 0-3 in the season, while the Storm upped their impressive 2021 beginnings to 3-0 with last spring’s state champion track competitors Ben Jessup (204 yards, four touchdowns) and Ethan McLain (117 yards, two scores) accounting for the bulk of Salt Fork’s 476 yards of total offense.

Seneca managed to amass 352 itself in all, with junior running back Collin Wright providing a monster night with 19 carries and 173 yards rushing and two scores. But the Irish just couldn’t counter the Storm’s efficiency and their incredible dynamic of speed.

“That’s definitely the fastest team we’ve seen this year with obviously good track times translating into good football scores, as we saw tonight,” said Seneca football and track and field coach Terry Maxwell. “As our track coach I witnessed that tonight in a big way with speed that I saw on the football field that I hope we can develop in our program, and hats off to Salt Fork tonight for an impressive performance.”

The Irish certainly gave the Storm a run for their money, though, taking the initial kickoff and traveling 67 yards in 12 plays culminating in junior Braden Ellis’ 8-yard touchdown scamper to put the home team up 7-0 at 6:31 of the first frame. Ellis ended up with 14 carries and 81 yards rushing.

But the Storm countered quickly, as Jessup notched his first tally at 5:06 with a 16-yard jaunt to cut the gap to 7-6 after a failed extra-point try. Jessup then opened the second period with a 33-yard race to the end zone at 6:18. He caught a two-point conversion pass from quarterback Colden Earles to put the visitors ahead 14-7.

But after another extended drive by the Irish that took 11 plays and 61 yards, Wright tied the proceedings at 14-apiece after a 6-yard scoring run with 1:05 left in the half.

Even with a slim clock, it took only four plays to travel 66 yards as Jessup hit paydirt for the third time on a 25-yard scamper with just 30 seconds left in the half, and Salt Fork led 21-14 going into the locker room at the half.

The Storm would outscore the Irish 21-8 in the third quarter despite a 31-yard scoring run from Wright at 8:12 that would pull Seneca to a five-point deficit at 27-22. However, McLain ran wild from there with a nifty reverse from Jessup at 5:51 and a 34-yard run to the house at 5:29 after Salt Fork recovered a Seneca fumble on the kickoff to make the score 42-22 entering the final frame.

The Irish managed to push home a touchdown on a 1-yard touchdown sneak by sophomore quarterback Nathan Grant with 3:30 to go to make the score 42-28 after a failed kick. Jessup concluded his amazing night with a 45-yard TD trot at 2:31 as the Storm won going away despite a gusty effort from the locals.

“I’m really proud of our kids’ effort against a very talented offensive team,” Maxwell said. “We came out very slow last week, but tonight I saw a team that can win some games moving forward after hanging with a well-coached Salt Fork squad.”

Seneca travels to Georgetown-Ridge Farm next Friday for another VVFA crossover contest.

Bill Lidinsky

Bill Lidinsky

Bill Lidinsky is an award-winning sports journalist and the recipient of the Illinois Coaches Association 2016 Sportsperson of the Year Award for his softball expertise and coverage.