CHAMPAIGN — Getting in or out of Memorial Stadium on Friday morning was a challenge.
Winds at more than 30 miles-per-hour with gusts up to 50 blowing from the North made it a team effort to open the big, steel, blue doors that allow entry into the stadium.
“That forecast started Monday with temps in the 50s and 12-mile-and-hour wind and worked its way to middle-30s and 25 mile-an-hour winds by Friday — it kept going in the wrong direction for us,” said Maroa-Forsyth football coach Josh Jostes, who coached in his fourth state championship game on Friday.
Jostes had learned first-hand what the wind can do to his spread passing offense. A cold and nasty day in the Class 2A state title game two years ago made passing and punting difficult against a Sterling Newman team that was able to put all its attention on shutting down Gary Scott.
“Playing them in the wind was like getting hit by a train,” Jostes said. “Every possession we were passing and punting into the wind, and they’re getting on offense and getting eight yards a crack. We were looking around to see how quickly the game was going to get over.”
Fortunately for Maroa on Friday, the wind was blowing left to right instead of across the stadium, so for half the game quarterback Jack Hockaday had the wind at his back. And the wind ended up affecting both teams in Maroa’s 48-24 Class 1A state title win.
In the first quarter, Stockton attempted two punts against the wind and neither went well.
After Maroa forced a Stockton three-and-out on the game’s first possession, a snap into the wind eluded Blackhawks punter Cameron Upmann. Maroa fell on it to set up a two-play touchdown in which Hockaday didn’t have to throw a pass.
Stockton’s next possession included a successful fourth-and-one conversion at its own 28, then — when the nine-play, 4:04 drive stalled at midfield — Upmann’s punt went just 20 yards into the wind.
From then on, Stockton coach Chris Thornton avoided punting — even with the wind. On its next drive, now with the wind in the second quarter, Stockton went for it on a fourth-and-three at midfield. The play went nowhere and ended in a fumble.
On the Blackhawks’ next possession, they went for it on fourth-and-one at their own 33 and Thomas Fox was stuffed. Maroa converted both short fields into touchdowns with Hockaday using mostly running plays but also mixing in long passes to Clayton Zilz and Drew Aschermann.
“We’ve been able to convert fourth-and-ones all year so I was confident going for it in those cases,” Stockton coach Chris Thornton said. “And you saw the way the wind was blowing. It was making it difficult to punt.”
A key to Maroa’s win was not only the Trojans’ ability to run the ball on Stockton — particularly with Hockaday on the read option — but also Hockaday’s success passing the ball into the wind during Maroa’s 14-point second quarter.
In the second quarter, Hockaday went 4-for-5 for 56 yards, including a 38-yard pass to Zilz that set up Ma-roa’s second touchdown. The throw was killed in the wind, but with Stockton not able to guard all of Maroa’s receivers, Zilz was still able to make a play on the ball. Maroa had the better open-field athletes, and it didn’t keep the wind from getting them the ball.
“If it wouldn’t have been so windy, we would have thrown more,” Jostes said. “They’re used to playing all run teams. We can run, too, but the bottom line is we want to throw when we want to throw. Our kids were able to execute.”
The third quarter, though, was a different story. Stockton found a way to move the ball, so it didn’t have to punt. And after Hockaday went 0-for-2 passing on a three-and-out to start the third, Maroa tried three run plays that went nowhere on its next possession and was forced to punt. Hockaday’s two punts weren’t terri-ble, but still only went an averaged of 31.5 yards and gave Stockton short fields to work with. The result was 24 unanswered points by Stockton to take the lead.
Once Maroa had the wind at its back in the fourth, all its confidence came pouring back. Hockaday was 4-for-4 passing for 66 yards and a touchdown on his first drive with the wind, and went 6-for-7 in the quarter for 91 yards.
“When they got the wind, they were able to throw it on us and mix it up,” Thornton said. “Once they got going, they took it to us in the fourth.”