Kesler Collins, Flanagan-Cornell/Woodland run over South Beloit to open I8FA playoffs

Falcons churn up 435 rushing yards on muddy field

Flanagan-Cornell/Woodland quarterback Seth Jones (2) hands the ball off to Kesler Collins (55) against South Beloit during the first round of the eight-man football playoffs Friday, Oct. 27, 2023, in Flanagan.

FLANAGAN – Flanagan-Cornell/Woodland fumbled a slick football on its first two offensive snaps, then saw its initial possession of its Illinois 8-Man Football Association first-round playoff game end inside the South Beloit 5-yard line with a lost fumble.

And that is pretty much the entire list of things the Falcons didn’t do right Friday in FCW’s 52-0, rain-soaked domination of the SoBos at Flanagan-Cornell High School.

It’s a win that sends the Falcons (8-2) on to the second round of the I8FA postseason, likely a visit next weekend to undefeated Amboy-LaMoille, which opens its postseason Saturday against heavy underdog Hiawatha. South Beloit (6-4), meanwhile, has its season ended with its second lopsided loss to the Falcons this month.

“We knew playing them again the second time, it wasn’t going to be just like the game we had with them a couple weeks before,” FCW coach Todd Reed said. “The guys came in focused, they kept their heads focused all week, we had great practices preparing.

“They’ve worked so stinking hard, and now they’re seeing the rewards for their hard work. I’m totally proud of them.”

FCW’s sloppy start with the rain pouring down in waves lasted only that first possession.

Running behind a dominant offensive line consisting of 235-pound center Aydan Radke, 285-pound Drew Novotney, 190-pound Toby Hansen, 260-pound Calix Stout and 200-pound Emerson Weber, Falcons 6-2, 203-pound running back Kelser Collins started his huge night on the Falcons’ next turn with the football. On his first two carries, Collins broke off a 21-yard touchdown run a play after gaining 5 1/2 on a fourth-and-5.

“Every day we’re hitting that sled or going through the shoots, keeping our hips low. It’s a lot of work, but you’ve just got to show up and do it. There aren’t any excuses on the front line.”

—  Drew Novotney, FCW senior lineman

That was it for the scoring in the first quarter. In the second, however, Collins racked up touchdown runs of 64, 4 and 25 yards as the Falcons took a 28-0 lead into halftime. Collins then added a physical, 51-yard touchdown sprint late in the third quarter to cap off his 16-carry, 266-yard, five-touchdown performance.

“Our offensive line the last six games has taken our rushing game to a new level,” Reed said.

Payton Quaintance — the lightning to Collins’ thunder — added 86 yards on 15 carries, with fullback Brennan Edens pitching in 37 yards including a 2-yard touchdown. Collins joins Quaintance in the 1,000-yard club this season.

It was part of a Flanagan-Cornell/Woodland offensive onslaught that churned up 435 yards on 49 carries (8.9 yards per attempt) and did not attempt a single pass.

As impressive as that was, so was the Falcons defense. The SoBos managed only 66 yards from scrimmage led by Noah Zwerenz’s 25 rushing yards and did not convert a second-half first down.

Stars on the FCW defense included Radke and Hansen (each with two tackles for loss), Collins, Logan Ruddy and Jonathan Moore (1.5 TFLs apiece) and Novotney (1.5 TFLs, quarterback sack, punt block).

“This all started in the winter,” Novotney said. “[Our coaches] had us in the weight room, and ever since then lifting hard. We’ve wanted it since then, and then throughout practices you just gotta keep going, gotta show up every day and do your best. ...

“Every day we’re hitting that sled or going through the shoots, keeping our hips low. It’s a lot of work, but you’ve just got to show up and do it. There aren’t any excuses on the front line.”

Ruddy scored FCW’s final touchdown, a 13-yard sprint to the end zone on the final play of the third quarter followed by a Leelynd Durbin two-point conversion run.

Flanagan-Cornell/Woodland's Payton Quaintance sprints down the field while South Beloit's Jacob Wilhite chases him down from behind during the first round of the 8-man football playoffs on Friday, Oct. 27, 2023 in Flanagan.