West Central action opens with loss to state's top-ranked team

Mindy Carls
After catching a pass early in the first quarter, Orion halfback Zach Kahley loses his helmet on Friday, Aug. 27.

Carthage Illini West, ranked #1 in Class 3A, delivered a 46-12 loss in varsity football to host Orion on Friday, Aug. 27, at Charger Field.

It was Orion’s worst loss since a 35-0 setback to Macomb in Olympic Conference action during 2004.

Orion coach Chip Filler and his Chargers knew going in they were headed for a tough scrap in their first game in the new West Central Conference.

Illini West won the West Prairie Trail (Southwest) last year and advanced to the semifinals in Class 3A before losing 21-14 to Stillman Valley. Also called the Chargers, the Illini West boys were the 3A state champions in 2008.

“We have a bad taste in our mouths with this loss,” Filler said. “We would have liked to beat Illini West, but they’re #1 in 3A and we’re in 2A.”

Filler offered no excuses, but he pointed out the Orion Chargers are a young team. He started nine juniors, one senior and one sophomore. The Illini West Chargers put 10 seniors and a junior on the field for the opening kickoff.

Orion’s head man wasn’t going to let his team dwell on the loss. Up next was a familiar foe, Sherrard, Orion’s archrival from the former Olympic Conference.

Burning from Friday night’s loss, and a 36-14 loss to the Tigers last year, the Chargers plan to come home from Sherrard with a win on Friday, Sept. 3. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m.

Tale of two halves

Illini West outscored Orion 38-6 in the first half, but the second half was a different story. The Chargers from down south had only an 8-6 edge following intermission.

Offensively, Illini West outgained Orion 434 yards to 239. Illini West had 315 yards on the ground and 119 in the air, while the hosts managed 114 rushing yards and 119 receiving yards.

Orion’s offensive leaders were Zach Kahley, 70 yards and one touchdown on 13 rushes, and Trent DeDecker, 69 yards and one touchdown on seven catches.

Colton Schulenberg completed 12 of 22 passes for 108 yards and one TD.

Special teams played a big role in Friday’s game.

Kahley took the opening kickoff 33 yards to the Orion 41, giving the host Chargers good field position.

Orion picked up three first downs. Two were on passes from Schulenberg to Kahley and to DeDecker, and one was on a run by Dylan Schultz.

But the drive ended on downs at the Illini West 19.

Orion’s second drive ended with a Schultz punt from the Orion 28. Illini West’s Ser Whitaker returned the ball to the Orion 34 before Cory Stiles brought him down.

Three plays later, the visiting Chargers were in the end zone for a 16-0 lead.

Illini West attempted an onside kick, but Orion’s Royce Woodley covered up the ball.

The host Chargers had the ball at their own 45, but they pushed it forward only two yards before punting.

After Whitaker’s long return on the previous punt, Schultz rolled to his right and booted the ball out of bounds.

Illini West started its next drive with the ball at its own 44 and had to run off seven plays to get into the end zone again.

Punting from his own 25 at the end of the next Orion possession, Schultz got a big roll. The ball finally rolled dead at the opponents’ 28.

Illini West promptly put the ball on the air, with Whitaker taking a pass 56 yards to the Orion 16. Three plays later, the guest Chargers had a 30-0 lead with 6:30 to go in the first half.

The host Chargers then mounted their only scoring drive of the first half. Kahley reeled off eight yards to the Orion 41, and Woodley powered up the middle for a first down. Carrying the ball twice, Schultz ran it over the 50, but then a pass fell incomplete on third down.

With Orion lined up to punt, Schultz passed to DeDecker instead. The 17-yard reception gave the Chargers a first down at the Illini West 32.

Kahley ripped off 18 yards to the 14, and Schulenberg threw to Woodley for six yards to the 8.

Illini West called a timeout, and their coach screamed at the defense, “This is where you make a statement. Shut them out.”

But two plays later, the Chargers pushed the ball across the goal line to spoil the shutout.

Schultz picked up two yards on a run, and Schulenberg passed to DeDecker for six yards and six points.

After forcing Illini West to go three-and-out on its next possession, Orion reached midfield in two plays.

Schulenberg hooked up with Kahley on a 27-yard pass. Kahley reached the Illini West 26 only to fumble. The visitors recovered the ball.

Taking over with less than a minute left in the first half, Illini West covered the 74 yards to paydirt in two plays. Kyle Huss ran for 23 yards to midfield, and Whitaker caught a pass and carried it 51 yards.

The score with 9.5 seconds on the clock let the visitors take a 38-6 lead into the locker room at intermission.

To start the third quarter, DeDecker delivered an onside kick where Riley Hohl could claim it for Orion.

The Chargers had the ball at the visitors’ 47 but picked up only four yards before turning the ball over on downs.

Illini West scored to go up 46-6 midway through the third period. That started a running clock for the rest of the game.

Orion’s next drive ended with Kahley in the end zone. Starting at their own 40, the Chargers moved the ball on the ground and in the air.

Schulenberg kept the drive going by picking up two first downs on quarterback sneaks.

Matt Markezich, Kahley and Stiles also gained yardage on the ground.

On third-and-2 at the Illini West 27, Schulenberg passed to DeDecker for a first down at the 17.

As the fourth quarter began, Schulenberg’s pass fell incomplete but a penalty for defensive pass interference gave Orion a first down at the 8.

From there, Kahley sped up the left side for his first touchdown of the year.

During their next possession, the host Chargers reached the opponents’ 22 before running out of time.