TAYLORVILLE – Mike Popovich offenses have never been shelled like they were Friday.
Taylorville's Jimmy Barry had two interceptions, Heath Fleming recovered two fumbles and Mount Zion committed five total turnovers and a safety. The Tornadoes cleaned up 31-6.
“Hands down the best defense I've seen in the last two years … three years,” Mount Zion coach Mike Popovich said. “Even my first year here we played Mahomet, a lights out defense. They're better.”
It was Popovich's first game as the Braves head coach in 2013, and they scored 14 points. That was the second-lowest offensive output until Friday. The Braves scored 12 points in the last game of 2013.
“That's a really, really good football team over there,” Popovich said. “The best one we've seen this year. I cannot remember the last time as an offense we've failed to put up more than this. That's sad.”
Popovich said this Taylorville team is better than last year's. Both beat the Braves, but last year it was Tanner Champley and the Tornadoes' offense setting the tone.
Taylorville (5-0, 2-0 Apollo) proved its defense was more than enough.
“They're a very, very good football team,” Popovich said. “Anyone who watched this one saw it.
“If they're a 5A/4A bubble team and you're looking at 5A with SHG and (Lombard) Montini going 6A, you don't want to pull them. Why would you?”
The game turned three plays into the third quarter. Mount Zion's AJ Davis returned the second half kickoff to Taylorville's 25-yard line with the Braves down 17-6.
Two plays later, Mount Zion's Max Gensler fumbled a shovel pass and Fleming jumped on the ball.
The Tornadoes bowled over the Braves' defense on the ensuing drive, keeping all five plays on the ground and gaining at least 11 yards every snap.
Mount Zion (3-2, 0-2) only ran 16 plays in the second half before its last drive in garbage time with 2:55 to go.
Barry, who was in coverage on Mount Zion's first-quarter touchdown pass to Brandon Price, rallied in the second half with his two interceptions.
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“It's a really special group,” Barry said of the defense. “Mount Zion coming in, they're a really good offense, and shutting them to six points just builds our confidence.”
“I want to stay humble with my answer,” Fleming quipped. “We're doing OK.”
Mount Zion's defense was in no way bad against Taylorville, despite giving up 31 points.
The Tornadoes scored on their opening drive of the game, but after that the Braves' defense made five consecutive stops, including four punts, three three-and-outs and an interception.
The Braves' offense put its defense in bad positions over and over again – and Taylorville capitalized.
The Tornadoes turned the Braves' first three turnovers into immediate touchdowns.
“We had to play a complete ball game,” Taylorville coach Jeb Odam said. “We had to score when we had opportunities.”
Stat of the night
On drives immediately following a Mount Zion turnover (including its safety), Taylorville's offense gained 226 yards. On all other possessions, the Tornadoes gained 85 yards.
“I've got to figure some things out on offense. The one thing I don't want to do is this: I don't want to go into next week doing the same exact thing we're doing and then if we roll, then you're sitting here thinking it's fixed when it's not. We have to be able to beat a good football team with what it is that we do, and if we can't do that then we have to look at what it is we're supposed to be doing.” -- Popovich