NIANTIC -- Sangamon Valley's defensive line knew it was the focal point on Friday night.
Facing Dalton Grohler and the Cerro Gordo-Bement offensive line, Storm coach Michael Lee wanted one thing -- stop the big play.
The Storm's front four ended up making a couple of their own.
Twice the Broncos fumbled inside the 2 yard line and the Sangamon Valley defense grew stronger as the game went on. They didn't break, and it propelled a Sangamon Valley 28-8 victory to open the Class 2A playoffs.
"Part of our team is, we don't ever give up," Lee said. "We don't ever give an inch until they're in the end zone. We're right at that point where they could easily walk in, but that's just not these guys. I'm really proud of that effort."
Grohler's fumble just inside the second quarter didn't kill off the Broncos chances, though. With Sangamon Valley (9-1) pinned at the 3, CGB (5-5) stuffed a Mason Hutchins sweep for a safety.
But the senior quickly made up for that on CGB's ensuing drive, flying behind the line of scrimmage to combine with sophomore Marcello Gonzalez in taking down Grohler on fourth-and-2.
Sangamon Valley shot down the field, Hutchins scored the first of his two touchdowns and built a lead that the run-heavy CGB had a hard time coming back from.
There were opportunities. Twice touchdowns were called back for penalties -- a face mask and a block in the back -- and on the next drive came the second goal-line fumble.
"We were on the sidelines like, 'Can we hit reset like a Nintendo game?'" CGB coach Andy Kerley said. "The first half, I don't know many games you can probably outgain somebody 2-1 and be down 12 points. I mean, ugh."
After Grohler had six rushes of 10-plus yards in the first half, Sangamon Valley clamped down in the second. The Storm allowed 37 yards on 14 attempts.
"He runs hard," Mason Hutchins said. "I felt like our d-line did a good job staying on that offensive line and letting linebackers flow to the football to keep them contained."
The Storm were able to do it without starter Gavin Hawkins, who should return next week. Marcello Gonzalez, a sophomore defensive end that's started since the first CGB game, came in grabbed a couple of sacks/tackles for loss.
"A least a couple," Gonzalez said, smiling. "I don't know, I didn't keep track. I was just in the moment."
Add in Matt Standish recovering the second fumble and Jacob Jump and Bailey Summer bolstering the line, and CGB didn't have many gaps to run through as the game wore on.
That let Sangamon Valley's offense run the way it wanted to. With a heavy dose of running the ball between the Storm's fearsome foursome, quarterback Miles Hutchins picked his moments well to shoot downfield. Hutchins was 4-for-5 for 147 yards a touchdown.
Friday' victory was another advancement for the Storm, which won the first home game in the co-op's history. Today, they can relax and scout who's next.
"It feels good," Mason Hutchins said. "That was definitely one of our goals, to win one at home."
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The senior class has helped usher in a new era at Sangamon Valley, but a sophomore stole bits of the limelight Friday.
What made Gonzalez's game so impressive is that it came on CGB's strong side of the line. Lee loves the progress he's made so far, and loves how coachable he is.
"I thought he played great. He's just a sophomore, but we put him over there on the big boy side of the line because we think Marcello's starting to become a big boy," Lee said.
"They got us early a couple of times, got us hooked on the toss sweep. We tried a different formation, we tried to widen him out to give him a better advantage. I felt like he was a big part in setting that edge."
Gonzalez credits Hawkins for helping him along.
"Hawkins, he's a really vital part of our team," he said. "I kind of look up to him, because he was a starter last year and he knows oll the positions. He gives me advice because I get mad sometimes."
There's a lot of youth with this Broncos team and that left Kerley hopeful for the future.
They do lose senior standouts like Brant Knowles, Dalton Wooldrige and Frankie Foran, but the majority of this team, including much of the line and Grohler that produced a 1,900-plus yard season on the ground, returns.
"In the fourth, we only had two seniors on the field on offense. Three, two on defense at times," he said.
"I guess I'm an optimistic human being. So there's your silver lining -- we're bringing a lot of these kids back. And you can see, they care a lot about it. So it's just a lot of the same stuff, but those kids as sophomores, they made way stupider mistakes. So you hope the learning curve picks up when they're seniors."
From all over
The versatility of Sangamon Valley's offense makes it so difficult to stop, especially with Miles Hutchins throwing accurately. Both Jimmy Staab and Nate Highley are talented at timing their jumps and creating space, impressive considering Sangamon Valley doesn't pass that much.
Nashville plays at New Berlin at 2 p.m. today.