CHAMPAIGN — Every player who accounted for a touchdown for Maroa-Forsyth returns next season.
Josh Jostes and Co. are back in a prime spot to go on another deep postseason run.
"We have some playmakers coming back," Jostes said. "Anytime our quarterback is coming back, our JV and freshman teams are really good this year. We'll have plenty of guys. We won't have the size; we graduate a lot of size up front. We'll be back to a more typical Maroa team."
Key PAT block for the Sages
Monticello knows how important point-after attempts are. After all, it's the exact play that cost the Sages last season's game against Byron in a 21-20 second-round loss.
This year, though, Monticello swatted it away.
Byron scored on a 1-yard run by Drake Snodgrass with 8:08 left in the fourth quarter and could have moved as close to a field goal had Aydin Lambert connected on the PAT. Instead, Riley Austin broke free and blocked the kick.
“I knew it was a big turning point because then we were up by four points and really got the crowd back into the game," Austin said.
“It’s always nice to block an extra point. No one takes that one that seriously, but it can end up being a big impact on the game."
Said quarterback Braden Snyder: “Last year we lost by one when we missed the PAT. We know how much one point can make a difference. It also shifted the momentum a little bit back towards us. It was huge."
Not all about the fumble
Maroa would have needed prime execution to score twice with less than five minutes on the clock. The fumbled lateral thrown by Wade Jostes wasn't everything.
"Ultimately I’m not sure that had a big impact on the game other than the final score and we could care less about the final score," Josh Jostes said.
It was the first time the Trojans had tried the play in a game this season — they work on it in practice. But Josh Jostes credited Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley kicker Ben Freehill for a perfectly placed kickoff.
“We haven't used it in a game yet, but every practice we run that and go over it and keep trying to get it right and we have," said Maroa junior Drew Hicks, who would have fielded the backwards lateral said. "That was the first time we couldn’t do it.
“I think it was the rain. I have a lot of trust in Wade. He’s a good quarterback. I trust him. He’s a good football player.
“I told him, ‘Keep your head up. There are going to be more chances for us next year. Don’t worry about it.'”
Sages' defense under the radar
Monticello hadn't played a particularly close game all season. Though the offense gets the attention because of the eye-popping numbers, the defense has allowed more than 20 points just twice and has held teams to seven points or less in exactly half of the Sages' 14 games this year.
That same defense helped the Sages climb out of Memorial Stadium with a state title.
“Perseverance," Monticello coach Cully Welter said of the game. "There were so many times where we got a key fourth down stop. They were in the red zone on their first two drives and came away with nothing. We had that 10-point lead, then as quickly as we had it, they got the kickoff return and the touchdown, and as quickly as you know, we’re back on our heels. We hung in there and it was a great game."
Not too conservative
Welter knew the Sages needed a first down. They couldn't risk not converting on a third-and-12 with less than two minutes left. So Welter stayed aggressive and called a reverse for Asher Bradd, who picked up the first and slid down instead of scoring a touchdown.
It sealed the game.
“I didn’t want to get too conservative but I knew I needed to make sure the clock was moving at that point," Welter said. "I figured we needed to get a first down. I didn’t want to get to fourth down and have to punt. I wanted to do something relatively safe, but at the same time something out of the box to catch them off guard."
The Sages let the clock wind down and called a timeout to get their bearings — kind of.
“It was kind of hectic," Snyder admitted. "We just needed to make sure we have people in the right spots. My whole goal was don’t fumble the snap."
Rushing attack key for the Trojans
Though they didn't rush for a touchdown, and GCMS accounted for three on the ground, Maroa actually outgained the Falcons on the ground.
That was thanks to some big runs from Gavin Clifton, who had 117 yards on the day, Benner's 101-yard day and 42 yards from Bryson Boes on four carries.