By Steve Robinson | April 18, 2021 - 10:57 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, U-High

NORMAL – A trio of University High players – senior running backs Justin Johnson and Peter Deffenbaugh, and senior wide receiver Gavin Markert proved too much for visiting Champaign Central High School Friday night as the Pioneers defeated the Maroons, 63-12, in a non-conference contest at Hancock Stadium on Illinois State University’s campus. The Maroons were a hurried substitution for the team U-High was originally scheduled in this home contest, Decatur Eisenhower High School. That school bowed out due to issues related to COVID-19.

After the Maroons punted to end its initial set of downs from the kickoff and displayed poor execution getting rid of the ball on fourth down, U-High (2-3) began its first possession at Champaign’s 28. Five plays later, Deffenbaugh’s rushing play into the end zone put his team in front, 7-0, following sophomore Declan Duley’s successful extra point at 9:23 in the first quarter.

U-High’s next possession started courtesy of an interception by Johnson in his role as defensive back, picking off a pass from Maroons junior quarterback Cody Brown. That interrupted the Maroons’ drive which began at their own 25 but put the Pioneers starting at the Maroons’ 48. Two plays later, Deffenbaugh’s 10 yard rushing touchdown at 7:22 in the quarter followed by Duley’s extra point added to the Pioneers’ lead, 14-0.

The Pioneers’ defense got into the act of scoring, too, during this contest, thanks to an interception by senior defensive back Jack Dameron. With Champaign starting a drive at their own 21, Dameron picked off Brown’s third down pass running it in for a 33 yard score at the 5:03 mark followed by Duley’s extra point, increasing U-High’s lead, 21-0.

Big 12 Conference opponent Champaign Central (0-5) ended their ensuing possession with a turnover on downs giving U-High the ball at the Maroons’ 43. Five plays later, sophomore quarterback Colin Cunningham connected with Markert for a 31 yard touchdown with 1:41 left in the quarter followed by Duley’s extra point, upping the Pioneers’ advantage, 28-0, going into the second quarter.

The ensuing set of downs for Champaign Central (0-5) resulted in a punt which put the Pioneers starting at their own 33 as the final seconds of the first quarter ticked away. Four plays later, a 27 yard pass from Cunningham to Johnson, followed by Duley’s extra point, put the Pioneers up, 35-0, at the 10:46 mark.

Defensive lineman Elon Mondy recovered a Champaign fumble interrupting a drive which started at their own 26 but ended at U-High’s 47, giving possession back to the Pioneers. Six plays later, junior running back Neil Sundaram scored from four yards out. Duley’s extra point extended U-High’s lead, 42-0, with 2:44 until halftime.

Champaign Central scored with 48 second left on a 60 yard pass from Brown to freshman receiver Braylon Thompson, but the Maroons’ 2-point conversion try failed, allowing U-High to maintain a 42-6 lead with 4:48 left in the quarter.

Each team experienced a set of downs resulting in a punt after that, and when the Pioneers got the ball back following the Maroons’ punt, they started at Champaign’s 40. One play later, Cunningham connected with Johnson again, this time for a 40 yard touchdown strike, followed by another Duley extra point, giving the Pioneers a 49-6 lead going into halftime.

Once the second half began, game officials employed IHSA’s “Mercy Rule,” – as a result of the 40-point plus difference in the game score, using a continuously running clock, stopping it only for timeouts taken by a team or because of an injury. The running clock began as the third quarter opened. Three plays after U-High received the second half kickoff, Markert scored his second touchdown of the contest from 25 yards out from Cunningham’s pass at 9:49 in the quarter followed by Duley’s extra point, increasing the Pioneers’ lead, 56-6.

Champaign Central scored their last points of the night on a handoff from Brown to junior running back Davis Willis for a seven yard rushing touchdown at 3:59 in the third quarter followed by a failed 2-point conversion attempt, cutting U-High’s lead, 56-12.

Just as he had started the evening scoring, Deffenbaugh closed out the Pioneers’ scoring on the night with a 37 yard rushing score, capping a 6 play, 76 yard drive followed by Duley’s extra point.

“I thought it was going to be a dogfight to be honest with you,” University High head coach John Johnson said afterward. “We came out and got up by two touchdowns and I think that broke their will a little bit. We did pretty well as a team tonight. I am very proud of our kids.”

Johnson had praise for Cunningham saying, “I remember telling reporters I thought he was going to be a good quarterback and I think he showed it tonight. The line blocked well for him a lot of times, he executed our whole offense, but he studied hard on our offense and he executed.”

“This was a team win,” Johnson said, adding praise for receivers, saying. “Neil Sundaram came in and he’s been working hard in practice and it was his time tonight.”

Prior to this contest, the team had struggled internally. But after this victory, as for the team’s complete effort, Johnson said, “They pulled the rope in the same direction all night and that really made a big difference.”

Johnson said he knew nothing about Champaign Central prior to the contest, adding, “I thought we were going to have a donnybrook here, but we played them pretty well.”

“We are a young team, so my frustrations are that I like to see my players compete ‘til the end of the game,” explained Champaign Central head coach Tim Turner, adding he saw his players do that.” He added the team has a motto of “we’ll play anybody anytime anyplace,” so the change of coming here had no effect on his players.

He said he thought his troops moved the ball “pretty well, but when you have 4 or 5 turnovers, it’s going to be difficult to score.” Champaign Central had two interceptions, two fumbles, and turned the ball over on downs to U-High twice.

The Pioneers are slated to travel to Jacksonville for a Central State Eight Conference contest Friday night.

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