Wilmington edges Coal City in defensive classic

Wildcats, Coalers battle to final minute

COAL CITY – Anyone who says a 10-7 football game isn’t exciting didn’t see Wilmington and Coal City play Friday night.

In a stark contrast to the wide open track meets that football games have become in the past few years, the Wildcats and Coalers took on the look of a 1970s Ohio State-Michigan game in the Illinois Central Eight opener for both teams.

It was a game full of hard runs and hard hits, and Wilmington emerged with a 10-7 victory. Both of Wilmington’s running backs – Jacob Friddle and Colin James – topped 100 yards on the ground. Friddle led the Wildcats (3-0, 1-0) with 137 yards on 22 carries, while James had 120 yards on 20 attempts. Friddle had the lone touchdown, a 10-yard burst around the right end in the second quarter that gave Wilmington a 10-0 lead.

“On the touchdown, [fullback] Karsen Hansen had a great kickout block, and I had one guy to beat,” Friddle said. “I put a stiff-arm on him, and I was able to get into the end zone.

“Our blocking was great all night. I just follow those big boys up front and find a hole.”

The big boys up front were tight ends Allan Richards and Kaleb Patterson and linemen Kade Hopwood, Drake Imhoff, Nick Sanford, Dominick Digillo and Brody Benson. They all earned praise from Wilmington coach Jeff Reents.

“My hat’s off to the O-line,” Reents said. “We are old school. We want to hold on to the ball and keep the other team’s offense off the field. A lot of our guys go both ways, so we take our time in between plays to get them some rest.”

Wilmington forced Coal City (1-2, 0-1) into a 3-and-out to open the game, then embarked on a 14-play drive that took 9:28 off the clock and reached the Coalers’ 1-yard line before a false start moved the Wildcats back and they faced fourth-and-6. Kicker Richards booted a 20-yard field goal to give the Wildcats a 3-0 lead with 1.9 seconds to play in the first quarter.

Wilmington got the ball back on its own 49 after a 14-yard punt return by James, and it ate up yards in bigger chunks, with Friddle scoring on a 10-yard TD with 4:59 to play until halftime for a 10-0 Wildcat lead.

Coal City answered, however, covering 80 yards on 17 plays, with Ashton Harvey scoring on a 2-yard run with 52.9 seconds to play until halftime, cutting the lead to 10-7.

Although that was the final score, there was plenty of excitement in the second half.

Coal City recovered a Wilmington fumble on the second play of the second half and took over at the Wildcat 19. The Coalers could not get a first down, however, and a 38-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left.

Late in the third quarter, Wilmington faced fourth-and-6 from the Coal City 42, and the punt snap went over Richards’ head. He chased it back to the 20 and got a kick away, but it was downed at the Coal City 36. Again, the Coalers could not capitalize, as Wilmington’s Sanford recovered a fumble at the Wildcat 25.

The two teams traded punts, and Wilmington took over at its own 42 with 2:38 to play. After a nine-yard gain by Friddle, the Wildcats were whistled for delay of game and the Coal City defense stiffend forcing another punt with 1:28 to play. The snap again went over Richards’ head and again he chased it down, booting it out of bounds at the Wilmington 28, where Coal City took over with 1:21 remaining.

After a 2-yard completion from Braden Reilly to Nick Seplak, Richards intercepted a Reilly pass and Wilmington went into victory formation to end the game.

“This was small high school football at its best,” Reents said. “That was Wilmington-Coal City. Coal City did a great job, [Coal City coach] Francis [Loughran] had his guys ready to play. It was a playoff-type atmosphere. It doesn’t get much better.

“Friddle and James ran hard all night long, and our defensive line did a real nice job. I can’t say enough about guys like Nick Sanford and Dom Dingillo. They were out there on both sides and just played great.”

For Coal City, it was another tough loss against a neighborhood rival after dropping a 13-3 decision to Morris in the season opener. Sandwiched in between was a 14-6 win over Kankakee Bishop McNamara.

“I was hoping we could get a win out of our first three games, and we did,” Loughran said. “But you look at this one and we could easily be 2-1 right now.

“This game was Wilmington-Coal City in a nutshell. Both teams played extremely hard, and it was a tough, physical game. We had some opportunities, but we just weren’t able to finish some drives. It was a little frustrating because some of it was self-inflicted with penalties and turnovers. But we’ll get to work cleaning those up.”

Harvey led Coal City with 42 yards rushing on 14 carries, while Reilly was 12 of 22 for 74 yards through the air. Nick Seplak (33 yards) and Brady Best (26 yards) had five catches each.

Rob Oesterle

Rob Oesterle

Rob has been a sports writer for the Morris Herald-News and Joliet Herald-News for more than 20 years. He is currently also writing news for the Morris Herald-News.