AMBOY – Last week the question was asked, can the Clippers stay undefeated?
The Amboy-LaMoille-Ohio football team answered emphatically with a 52-6 Week 9 home victory over Northwest Upstate Illini Conference foe, Polo.
“The kids did a great job and played a great game. It is a lot easier to sleep at night when you have a good group of kids like this who come out and perform like they did against Polo,” said Clippers coach Scott Payne. “On our first drive, we threw an interception in our own end zone. Then our defense came up with the big stop and our offense came back and scored. I think the turning point of the game was when we were up 8-0 and Polo was moving the ball and Austin Heath caused a fumble. Brennan Blaine picked it up and scored a touchdown.
“That really got us going. Our defense played phenomonal. We forced the fumble, had the fumble recovery, Troy Anderson had two interceptions, and he forced a fumble and recovered a fumble. When you can get four turnovers in a game, that’s always a good thing.”
Entering the contest, Polo was 7-1 and had the numbers and stats to warrant the Marcos as the toughest task for the Clippers this season.
While the defense snagged four turnovers, the A-L-O offense ran rampant as senior Landon Whelchel had 123 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries, junior Quinn Leffelman rushed for 119 yards and one touchdown on 18 carries, and senior Brennan Blaine had four carries for 43 yards and two touchdowns.
The special teams have been a unit Payne has praised all season as the unsung heroes. It didn’t stop against Polo as Caleb Yanos, Josh McKendry, Austin Heath, Dillon Merriman, Rylan McNinch and the entire unit have helped the coach sleep at night.
“All of us coaches were talking after the game, and we agreed that we’ve yet to play a whole game where we play our best level of football,” Payne said. “We look great at times, but then there are times where we kind of look not so great. Once these kids put it all together and play a full game like that, it’s going to be something to watch, and I can’t wait to see it.
“They’re still focused. I told them, ‘The playoffs are starting, and every team has the same record. The ranking, the seed is only a number in front of our name. Anybody can be beat. We have to continue to follow our motto and go 1-0 every week.’ These kids understand that.
“You always want to play a tough game right before the playoffs start against good competition. For us to come out and play the way we did and pull away from Polo the way we did, I think it’s a great confidence booster for us and the kids. They’re just excited to get the playoffs going. It’s an exciting time of the year.”
Although the Clippers are 9-0 and have outscored their opponents 437-96, they’re still not the No. 1 seed in the Illinois 8-Man Football playoff bracket.
They’re No. 2, behind No. 1 St. Thomas More, and are set to play No. 15 Hiawatha at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 28.
“If I had a dollar every time I was asked why we’re No. 2 instead of No. 1, I wouldn’t have to go to work,” said Payne, who said they were looking at three scenarios, Hiawatha, South Beloit or West Prairie before Saturday’s pairing show revealed Hiawatha as the first-round opponent. “It was based off playoff points. St. Thomas More has more playoff points than we do. Some of the kids asked, I told them about the playoff points and told them, ‘It doesn’t matter. You just have to keep winning week in and week out. That’s what matters.’ They understood that when I told them.
“Hiawatha is a good football team. They have a really good running back in Lucas Norvell. He’s fast and they like to get him the ball with sweeps to the outside. We’re going to have to work on our outside rushing defense and not let him get to the outside on us.”
Hiawatha is 4-5 on the season and has scored 328, while giving up 339.
The two common opponents through the season for the Clippers and the Hawks ae Milledgeville and Ashton-Franklin Center.
The Hawks lost to Milledgeville 74-34 and beat AFC 46-22, while the Clippers beat the Missiles 32-20 and knocked off the Raiders 46-0.
“We’re ready to go. Everyone is excited about the playoffs. The kids are ready. They’re happy with how we finished the regular season, but they also know it’s a new part of the season now. It’s time to really turn it up to the next level.”