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CHAMPAIGN — In about 10 seconds, everything changed for Maroa-Forsyth.

The Trojans trailed Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley by five points with 4:27 left in the game before Austin Spiller intercepted Maroa quarterback Ian Benner and returned it 18 yards for a touchdown.

On the ensuing kickoff, a Maroa lateral landed in the end zone and was recovered by Layne Harden for a touchdown on the way to the Falcons’ 35-16 win over Maroa in the Class 2A state championship game at Memorial Stadium in Champaign on Friday.

“We had to make something happen down 12 with four minutes to go," Maroa-Forsyth head coach Josh Jostes said of the lateral. "We’re willing to take a shot. If you followed us all year long or in the last 20 years, we’re playing to win the ball game.

“We didn’t execute real well. Their kicker’s so good. When he puts it on the one, that’s a little different. We’re trying to throw a lateral pass in the end zone. It’s just a bad idea."

It’s the second consecutive state championship for the Falcons, who beat Maroa-Forsyth last season and have won 28 consecutive games. Maroa has finished second in three straight seasons.

"They set their minds to it last year that nothing was going to stop them," Falcons coach Mike Allen said of the first 2A title repeat since Aledo in 2001-02. "Our kids played their butts off for four quarters. To see them work hard and have good things happen means a lot to me."

Maroa junior Drew Hicks fielded the kickoff and handed to Wade Jostes, who tried to lateral the ball back to Hicks before it sailed in the end zone, where Lane Harden pounced on the ball.

“Everything was going through my mind that we lost that game,” Hicks said of watching the ball go by him. “It’s hard to explain the sadness.”

Ultimately, though, the Trojans didn't lose the game on the botched lateral. They still had to score twice on a GCMS defense that held the Trojans out of the end zone from the 1:48 mark in the first quarter.

The Trojans’ defense bent in the second half, but never broke to keep the deficit at five, 21-16, until the interception return.

“Their linebacker made a great play on the ball," Benner said. "I saw he took it the other way and that really took the wind out of the sails for us. We still came out and tried to move the ball, but ultimately that was probably the dagger in the game."​

Maroa’s (13-1) offense just couldn’t punch the ball in the end zone. The Trojans had the ball at or inside the GMCS 20-yard line twice in the second half, turning it over on downs both times, and had a chance before halftime before the Falcons’ defense, which had allowed just 40 points all season, clamped down.

Quarterback Ian Benner was 13-of-22 for 142 yards and two touchdowns, both in the first quarter, while rushing for 101 yards.

“They’re a good defense, but in the first quarter we did get the ball moving," Benner said. "We had some great drives throughout the game and ultimately didn’t finish them off. You’ve got to score to win."

Benner found Hicks twice in the first quarter, one pass of 10 yards and a pass of eight yards for touchdowns. The first-quarter scores were the only points the Falcons have allowed in the first quarter all season.

The Trojans racked up yards on a traditionally stout defense, out-gaining the Falcons (14-0) 407 to 305.

“Ian was giving me routes to run and I was running them," Hicks said. "I had trust in my quarterback. We had a lot of momentum going into that second quarter but we just couldn’t top it off."

Maroa nearly broke though in the fourth quarter with a pass from Benner to sophomore tight end Kadinn Morris on a third-and-goal play from the GCMS 14-yard line. Benner threw it to Morris, who had one-on-one coverage in the back of the end zone, but couldn't come up with the ball.

Morris had five catches for 78 yards including a spectacular one-handed grab down the sideline in the first half trailing 21-14.

“I’ve had catches like that before in my career of playing football," Morris said. "It’s just another day. If I have my hand on the ball, I’m taught to come down with it. It was a big conversion play, but we didn’t finish that drive the way we wanted to."

That drive ended with an interception in the end zone after Maroa receiver Max Davenport (1 catch, 16 yards) couldn't come down with the ball, which bounced back up and into the arms of GCMS senior Adam Laughery.

"I was trying to go up and make a play," Davenport said. "I wasn’t open on my original route. I had to scramble out. I got open. I just couldn’t come down with it."

Ironically, the special teams game that Maroa dominated all day was the dagger at the end. GCMS punter Ben Freehill pinned the Trojans on their own 1-yard line on the drive that ended in an interception from Benner, then Freehill's kickoff was at the Maroa-Forsyth 1-yard line before the lateral fell to the end zone.

Maroa blocked two punts, one which was recovered by Wade Jostes and one which sailed out of the end zone for a safety with 1:11 let in the first half after it was blocked by Johnny Luttrell.

“We were really good against their punt," Josh Jostes said. "They had the bad snap and two blocks for us on punts. I thought we were really good in that phase. Obviously they hit a really big one when they needed to.

 



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Contact Joey Wagner at (217) 421-6970. Follow him on Twitter: @mrwagner25

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Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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