By Malcolm Butler
Vermilion Catholic showed why it’s the No. 1 seed in the Select School Division IV playoffs.
The Screaming Eagles (11-0) used a big play offense and a smothering defense to defeat No. 16 seed Cedar Creek 31-7 Friday night, ending the Cougars 2022 season.
“They were a really good football team,” said head coach Matt Middleton. “They are as advertised. Lots of team speed; really physical. There is a reason their point differential is what it is.”
Creek (7-5) hung tough early, holding Vermilion Catholic scoreless through the first 20 minutes of the contest before the Screaming Eagles scored two TDs over the final four minutes of the second quarter to grab a 14-0 lead.
Head coach Matt Middleton and Co. had an early opportunity to grab the momentum after recovering a fumble on the second play of the game inside the Screaming Eagles side of the field. However, after picking up a first down, a costly holding penalty put the Cougars behind the chains and they eventually turned it over on downs.
Late in the first quarter and into the early part of the second quarter, Creek put together a 13-play drive, marching the ball inside of the Vermilion Catholic 30-yard line. But once again the Screaming Eagles defense forced the Cougars into an unsuccessful fourth down attempt, ending the drive.
“We just couldn’t score,” said Middleton. “We had a hard time moving the football on the ground. We had some early chances and just couldn’t get it done. We got behind the sticks on the penalty on the first drive and couldn’t overcome it.”
The Screaming Eagles countered, and on a fourth down and six play deep in Cougars territory, quarterback Jonathan Dartez threw a 21-yard TD pass to give the Screaming Eagles the 7-0 lead.
Following a three-and-out by the Cougars, VC struck again right before the half. This time Dartez tossed a 28-yard TD pass with only 47 seconds remaining in the first half as the Eagles entered the locker room with a 14-0 lead and the momentum.
“I thought our defense really played well tonight,” said Middleton. “I think they got tired in the second half. But we were in it in the second half because of the way our defense played.”
Quincy Lewis, who ends his Creek career as the all-time tackles leader, added 16 more to that total while Lawson Lillo, Lane Thomas and Brett Johnson each recorded sacks.
Dartez threw his third TD of the game and added a 43-yard TD run while a 36-yard FG pushed the Screaming Eagles advantage to 31-0 in the fourth quarter. Dartez completed 8-of-12 passes for 89 yards and three scores while rushing for over 100 yards and one TD.
However, Creek responded. The Cougars drove 80 yards on eight plays led by circus catches by Ladd Thompson and Lawson Lillo before Lane Thomas scored on a six-yard TD run — his 18th of the year — with 4:33 to play in the game. Thomas was a workhorse, rushing 28 times for 90 yards and 1 score.
Middleton finished the night 25-of-30 for 159 yards while Brian Osborne (8-35), Connor Norris (6-43) and Ladd Thompson (5-51) were the leading receivers.
Davis Long added his 51st extra point of the season for Creek.
It was only the fourth time this season in 11 games that Vermilion Catholic allowed a TD to an opponent as the Screaming Eagles recorded seven shutouts in their first 10 games of the year.
The loss signified the final game for 16 Cougars seniors.
“I am proud of the kids,” said Middleton. “It’s a special group. I am proud of the season and what they accomplished. It’s just a great group of seniors.”
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