WILMINGTON – Wilmington had its smallest margin of victory in an Interstate Eight Conference Small football game in more than three years Friday night when it defeated Seneca 14-6.
The last time the Wildcats won by fewer than eight points in a conference game was Sept. 17, 2010, when they defeated Lisle 35-28.
Until Friday, they had won every Small game since then by 20 points or more.
“I thought we competed well with one of the class programs in the state of Illinois. I’m proud of the way we competed all night long,” Seneca coach Ted O’Boyle said. “On the flip side, we didn’t execute in some areas well enough to win. ... We want the guys to understand that, even if it’s to Wilmington, it’s still a loss, and hopefully it makes us hungrier.”
By advancing 14 yards farther on their final drive — and adding a two-point conversion – the Fighting Irish could have forced overtime. They were down eight points with 3:37 to play at the Wilmington 1-yard line, where a punt had been downed.
Runs of 4 yards on first down and for 6 on third-and-3 by Tommy Lovett got the Irish going, and Bo Taylor then ran for another first down. The Irish faced third-and-6 from their own 28 when Taylor found a wide-open Austin Applebee for a 33-yard gain.
On the next play, Taylor passed to Applebee again for 17 yards. Lovett’s 8-yard gain on first down got Seneca to the Wilmington 14, but an illegal touching penalty on an incomplete pass and a sack forced the Irish into a fourth-and-18 play, which failed.
“That Taylor can run all over the place,” Wilmington coach Jeff Reents said when asked what Seneca showed him on its final drive.
“I thought we had him a couple times, he reversed out. We had a breakdown in coverage one time, so you got the tight end down the sideline, and then we had good coverage, and he still got the ball. Then the momentum starts going. Obviously time-outs gotta be called, and so now it becomes a chess match a little bit between us. With Taylor right there, that’s an anytime, anywhere deal, and with Lovett back there. They put a lot of pressure on you.”
A bigger issue for the Irish than the final drive stalling was their offensive play before the series. Apart from their first possession – which produced their only touchdown on a 4-yard Lovett run – and their last one, the Irish gained 27 total yards.
“What we call is heavily dictated by getting a good snap, by timing,” O’Boyle said. “There were a couple of times on first down where that timing broke down, and then we’re stuck in second and 10 or worse. We had some silly penalties. Of course, those things are all magnified when you’re playing Wilmington more than they might be in some other games.”
Seneca stayed in the game by holding Wilmington to just more than 4.5 yards a carry and turning the Wildcats’ few pass attempts into negative plays for the hosts. Wilmington went 0-for-3 and lost 21 yards on two sacks.
“Our stat guy had them for 215 rushing yards. If you had told me coming in we would hold them to 215 yards, I would have been ecstatic,” O’Boyle said. “I thought our defense bent at times, but it didn’t break.”