WARRENSBURG —The murmurs are getting louder with each passing broken tackle and touchdown run by Jacardia Wright.
St. Teresa has eyes on playing at Memorial Stadium on Nov. 23 for the Class 2A state championship.
On their side is Wright, who moved into sole possession of second place in IHSA history for rushing touchdowns. Wright ran for 226 yards and five touchdowns, and added a 58-yard punt return for a touchdown, all in the first half of St. Teresa's 62-12 win over Warrensburg-Latham Friday night.
Wright has 118 career rushing touchdowns, trailing only James Robinson of Rockford Lutheran, who has 158 in his career. And, the Bulldogs (8-0, 6-0) clinched at least a share of the Central Illinois Conference championship with the win.
Wright's third touchdown to take sole possession of second place came on a 35-yard run in the second quarter on which he hurdled a Cardinal defender down the sidelines.
“I had a little bit of a clue, but that’s not my main focus this year," Wright said of his career touchdowns. "We have high hopes to get to state and that’s all we’re focusing on."
Wright's touchdowns came on runs of 20, 64, 35, 55 and nine yards. He has 24 career touchdowns against Warrensburg.
But the Bulldogs were more more than a one-man show in dominating a Warrensburg team that came into the game with just one loss.
Entering the season, the Bulldogs were inexperienced on the defensive line. But by Week 8, the defensive line of freshman Denim Cook, sophomore Will Jameson, junior Dominico Sassano and senior Connor Reynolds — with freshman Justice Chapman in the mix — grew up in a hurry.
The Bulldogs made life miserable on the Warrensburg (6-2, 4-2) offense. The Cardinals' first eight drives resulted in six three-and-outs and two fumbles. They finally picked up a first down midway through the second quarter.
Jameson had three tackles, one for a loss, and a forced fumble on the second Warrensburg drive of the game — recovered by Cook. Two plays later, the Bulldogs got a 15-yard rushing touchdown from Tyler Phillips.
“It’s pretty big," Jameson said. "I’m taught to bend and squeeze. Just getting a hand on the ball to get it out of the guy’s hand was mind-blowing to me. I realized I didn’t quite get the tackle, but I forced something better."
St. Teresa doesn't pack a lot of size on the defensive line, but Cook, a 5-7, 193-pounder, said speed kills. He finished with five tackles, Reynolds had six and a tackle for a loss, Sassano had a tackle and Chapman had five tackles and one for a loss.
There was a point to prove for the Bulldogs.
“Shoutout to the defensive line," Wright said. "Freshman and sophomores, they’re working their butts off in practice. We’re getting it done in practice and bringing it to the field every Friday.
“I see a lot in them that I was doing my freshman year. It’s kind of awesome being a senior captain this year."
St. Teresa coach Mark Ramsey and his coaching staff have been rotating players around the line, but the success so far has been welcomed.
"They’re getting better and better," Ramsey said. "They’re young, but it’s good to see. To run our style of defense, it starts with our defensive line and them controlling gaps and getting some pressure on the quarterbacks. They’re some really good athletes we have up there right now. That’s been a pleasant surprise."
Warrensburg had just 40 first-half yards against the Bulldogs' starting defense. Sophomore running back Trey Largent, who was playing in place of Davis Brumbaugh — out with an injury — ended with 102 rushing yards and a touchdown on 20 carries.
Warrensburg coach Aaron Fricke said Largent's play was a "silver lining."
But the Cardinals couldn't handle the St. Teresa defense.
“They were aggressive," Fricke said. "They flew around. They’re obviously extremely well coached. I coached for (defensive coordinator John) Hayden back in the day. The man knows football. He’s got his kids absolutely flying around.
“They were able to generate pressure with four guys even if they didn’t bring a blitz. If you can’t stop that, it’s going to be a long night and it definitely was."
The Cardinals turned the ball over three times in the first half, all on fumbles, and each led to good field position for St. Teresa and resulted in a Bulldog touchdown.
St. Teresa took over on the Warrensburg 17-, 13- and 30-yard line after each of the fumbles.
“You give Jacardia only 20 yards to go to the end zone, he’s going to score that every time," Fricke said. "Even when you’ve got them pinned back on their own one, it’s going to be hard to stop him.
"It wouldn’t have been as ugly had we not made all of those turnovers, but all the credit goes to them. That’s an outstanding football team. I really wouldn’t be surprised to see them around Thanksgiving in the state championship game."
Warrensburg travels to Clinton next week having already clinched a playoff.
“Everybody has a bad game during the season and we picked the worst week to have it because we’re playing the best team in the conference, maybe even the state in 2A," Fricke said. "You gotta get that out of the way. I told them after the game that we’ve got to get the bad one out. I think this is going to provide a little bit of fire next week. We’ve got to bottle that up and hopefully use that to our advantage and try to finish 7-2 because the playoff seeding is very important at this point."
The Bulldogs close the regular season at home against Shelbyville next Friday before beginning the march to Champaign, the site of this year's state championship game and the venue of the last state title game the Bulldogs played in two years ago.
St. Teresa's defense had a point to prove: That the Bulldogs are more than statistically the best offense in any class in the state of Illinois.
“We’re trying to show that we’re trying to go to state," Cook said.