MATTOON — In a game where whoever won, that team was guaranteed a spot in the playoffs, Effingham took control early with a nine-play scoring drive to start the game.
Mattoon never really recovered. Effingham went up 14-0 and Mattoon was playing catchup the rest of the way and the Green Wave couldn’t stop the Flaming Hearts offense at key times.
Effingham guaranteed itself a spot in the playoffs with a 41-21 win over Mattoon on Friday.
Not only were the Flaming Hearts hard to stop on Friday, the Green Wave had trouble moving the football. Mattoon only had 201 yards of total offense.
Mattoon coach Troy Johnson said Effingham was the more physical team.
“Especially in the first half, that was the case,” Johnson said. “In the second half, we were doing a few things that we don’t normally do with blitzes and stuff trying to make plays. They are well-coached and they gapped down and sealed that and got outside of that. We had some struggles up front.”
Effingham improved to 6-2 overall and 5-1 in the Apollo Conference. The Flaming Hearts lost some key players from last season and started the year 0-2. Effingham bounced back and is on a six-game winning streak.
“This group has been unbelievable. Their improvement every week, the way they compete and the way they work,” Effingham coach Brett Hefner said. “It’s an impressive group of kids.”
Effingham had 399 yards of total offense and 271 of that came on the ground. Kendall Ballman rushed for 220 yards and two touchdowns.
“Our guys up front are playing a lot better. We had three new starters to start the year and it took a little bit to get going,” Hefner said. “They have a good understanding of the system and the one thing I love about our kids, we have kids that compete and they are tough and they just compete.”
Johnson said Effingham didn’t do anything that Mattoon didn’t see on film.
“You have to take your hat off to them sometimes. Both of their running backs are good runners. They are well-coached and they will give you power and counter and tonight it was outside zone and power. Then they are going to run play action off it,” Johnson said. “The interesting part is they didn’t do anything we didn’t expect. Most of it comes back to us and being in the right place at the right time.”
Effingham started with the ball and went 65 yards in nine plays. The Flaming Hearts converted a third-and-13 with a 35-yard pass to Dylan Bushur to put the ball at the Mattoon 10-yard. Two plays later, Kendall Ballman scored on a 7-yard run to put Effingham up 7-0.
Hefner said that first drive set the tone of the game for Effingham.
“It was big. Normally this year we took the ball and on a night where it is cold and rainy, the kids had a heck of a drive to start the game,” Hefner said. “Defensively we played well.”
Mattoon ended up running only nine plays in the first quarter and on Effingham’s third drive, the Flaming Hearts got a 37 yards run from Ballman to put them at the Mattoon 17-yard line. Effingham later scored on Logan Brown’s 3-yard run for a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Mattoon put together its first good drive of the game as the Green Wave went 70 yards in 10 plays. Jack Pilson hit Brock Smith for 23 yards on third-and-9 and then found Abe Baker for a 17-yard touchdown. That setup Tucker Overton’s 7-yard touchdown run as Mattoon trailed 14-7 with 7:22 left in the second quarter.
Effingham responded with a 19-play, 91-yard drive. The Flaming Hearts scored when Landon Wolfe hit Kollin Waymoth, who came across the middle of the field for the catch, for a 2-yard touchdown pass as Effingham went up 21-7 with 13 seconds left before the half.
After a three-and-out by Mattoon to open the second half, Effingham faced fourth-and-1 at the Mattoon 38-yard line. Ballman went right up the middle for a 38-yard touchdown as Effingham went up 28-7.
Effingham went three-and-out on its next possession and Jackson Nichols blocked the punt. Mattoon took over at the Flaming Hearts 7-yard line and on fourth down, Pilson hit Caden Price for a 5-yard touchdown to cut it to 28-14 late in the third quarter.
Mattoon kept Effingham out of the end zone and the Green Wave took over at their own 31-yard line. Mattoon drove down to the Effingham 36-yard line but fumbled and the Flaming Hearts recovered with 9:20 remaining.
Effingham faced third-and-9 on that possession and Ballman broke free for a 20-yard run. Ballman later scored on a 2-yard run and the Flaming Hearts went up 35-14 with 6:48 remaining.
Mattoon quickly drove down the field and Pilson found Cam Knierim for a 16-yard touchdown and the Green Wave trailed 35-21.
Effingham came right back and Ballman went right up the middle for 21 yards after the onside kick. Logan Brown scored on a 5-yard touchdown run as Effingham sealed the game with a 41-21 lead with 3:07 remaining.