Illinois High School Football News

Missiles down West Prairie to win eight-man first-round playoff game

Milledgeville's Kacen Johnson returns a punt return for a touchdown Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022 against Orangeville.

MILLEDGEVILLE – With just over a minute to play in the first half of Saturday’s eight-man first-round playoff game at Floyd Daub Field, the Milledgeville Missiles lined up to receive a kickoff after a West Prairie field goal.

Up to that point, it had been a classic low-scoring slugfest, but when the kickoff went to Kacen Johnson, everything changed in a flash. Johnson returned the kick down the home-team sideline 86 yards for a touchdown, igniting a four-touchdown blitz in a 2 minute, 30 second game-time window.

When the final buzzer sounded, the thoughts of that low-scoring slugfest were a distant memory, while a 52-3 victory for the Missiles was an instant reality.

“I saw that wall form, and I knew that I was going to get behind them,” Johnson said. “That was awesome. At Milledgeville, special teams have always been a big thing for us. That really changed the momentum.”

On the second play of the ensuing possession, West Prairie quarterback Ashton Barkley made a few nifty moves to avoid the Milledgeville (7-3) pass rush, but as he turned to go up field, the ball was knocked from his hands and it was recovered by the Missiles.

Two plays later, Milledgeville quarterback Connor Nye pitched the ball backward to Bryce McKenna, who then heaved the ball down the field to Johnson for a 27-yard touchdown pass. Just like that, a game where Milledgeville led 8-3 with 1:16 left in the half had turned into a 24-3 lead with 27 seconds left.

“That’s huge going into halftime, especially when we are getting the ball right out of half,” Milledgeville coach Jason Wroble said. “We answered right away out of the half, too. West Prairie came out swinging and we were on our heels a little bit, but we know our special teams are pretty tough. That’s one of the phases of the game that we spend time on to make an impact.”

It was the third of four touchdowns on the day for Johnson. He started the Milledgeville scoring with a 68-yard reception in the first quarter. In all, he had three receptions for 136 yards and three touchdowns to go along with the 86-yard kickoff return. He also had two interceptions.

“He’s [Johnson] an electric player with a lot of skill and a lot speed,” Wroble said. “He missed most of last year with a broken leg, so he’s definitely an impact player. He’s a kid that anytime he touches the ball, he can make an impact play.”

Johnson returned his second interception for 43 yards, but despite trying to jump over an attempted tackle, wasn’t able to break it for the touchdown.

“I was trying my best,” Johnson said. “I tried to hurdle someone to get the pick-six because that would have been pretty awesome.”

After half, Nye kept the ball for three consecutive plays, and that’s all the Missiles needed to move the ball down the field 70 yards for the touchdown. The big play was Nye and Kolton Wilk running the option around end. Nye held the ball on Wilk’s hip until the last possible moment, then kept it and slashed inside for a play that went for 45 yards.

“That’s an adjustment we made at halftime, and that was a play that we thought would work because they were stacking the box,” Wroble said. “Connor and Wilk are kind of isolated around end, and they have to make a play. Connor’s one of those kids. He’s not super fast, but he runs hard and has enough speed. Once he gets to that second level, he can make people look foolish because he’s a load to tackle.

After an interception by Micah Toms-Smith, Nye found Johnson for a 41-yard touchdown with 10:46 left in the third quarter to put Milledgeville up 40-3.

Wilk had a 38-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter, and Evan Schrenck threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Spencer Nye late in the game to round out the scoring for the Missiles.

The Cyclones (6-4) hit on some big pass plays in the first half, but a lack of a running game and several turnovers cost them dearly. West Prairie threw four interceptions and lost four fumbles, including one in the second quarter that hit the pylon when running back Jensen Laughlin appeared only inches from a touchdown. Milledgeville held West Prairie to only three yards on the ground in the first half when the game was still in contention.

“Last couple weeks, we’ve been doing a real good job on run defense,” Wroble said. “They have some players that can make some plays in the passing game, but I thought we did a nice job tightening down the screws near the goal line.”

Milledgeville advances to play West Central in the quarterfinals next weekend. Milledgeville lost to West Central 64-36 in Week 7.

“We played West Central already, and they came here and embarrassed us,” Wroble said. “That left a real sour taste in my mouth and the kids’ mouths. We know that we are better than we were the last time we played them. They are a machine on offense, and they play good defense. They are the most complete team right now in eight-man, and we have to make sure we show up every day at practice this week to be sure we come ready to play next Friday or Saturday.”