Redbirds advance to quarterfinals
Senior quarterback Michael Fay ran for three touchdowns and threw for another to lead Metamora to a 48-14 win over Mt. Zion in the second round of the Class 4A playoffs Saturday at Malone Field.
Fay also surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the third straight season and 6,000 total yards for his career.
Metamora coach Pat Ryan acknowledged Fay’s importance, but he also commended his team’s balance on offense.
“The key was our ability to spread it out,” he said. “We’re getting contributions from different guys. As we move on and play some really good teams, we’re going to need that balance.”
Mt. Zion won the opening kickoff, but coach Dave Smith deferred and kicked off to the Redbirds to start the game.
Not such a good idea.
Fay and senior Jake Ferguson shared the carries to march the Redbirds to the Mt. Zion 25-yard line, which set up a 25-yard Fay touchdown run.
Earlier in that drive, Metamora faced a fourth down (seven yards to go) situation from the Mt. Zion 42-yard line.
Ryan went for it, and Fay ran for just enough yards to make it. Fay also converted on another big fourth down play later in the half.
“Fourth down is just another down,” said Metamora senior lineman Preston Butner. “We’re confident that we can get a first down, no matter what down it is.”
Mt. Zion (9-2) responded with a 15-play scoring drive that ate up a big chunk of the clock and tied the game at 7-7 with 11:55 left in the half.
But the Braves did not score again until late in the second half and Metamora (10-1) controlled time of possession for the rest of the game.
“We made some adjustments on defense after they scored on us early in the game,” said senior linebacker Tom Bieneman. “We knew they wanted to pound the ball on the ground and take time off the clock, but we didn’t let them do that as much in the second quarter.”
After Mt. Zion scored to make it 7-7, the Redbirds came right back with a long scoring drive of their own.
Fay, behind a crushing block from senior Tyler Burch, busted through the line for a 44-yard run to the Mt. Zion 34-yard line.
On fourth down and one from the 25-yard line, Fay ran for the first down once again.
“When you’re playing a team that likes to run the ball, you have to be able to keep your own drives going, so they don’t get the ball back,” Ryan said. “We didn’t have any doubts about going for it there (on fourth down).”
Three plays later, Fay ran in from one yard out to give Metamora a 14-7 lead with 6:58 left in the first half.
Mt. Zion was forced to punt on its next drive after Butner stopped Braves’ leading rusher Jacob Smith (94 yards) for a loss on a third down sweep to the outside.
Metamora senior Andrew Jones provided the highlight on Metamora’s next possession when he made an acrobatic 19-yard catch. Jones was running toward the sideline and was guarded tightly by the Mt. Zion cornerback when he made the one-handed catch as he was falling down.
“That was a great catch,” Ryan said.
Back-to-back carries from senior David Tracy got the Redbirds to the 16-yard line and Fay scored on an eight-yard run two plays later to give Metamora a 21-7 lead with 2:49 left in the half.
But the half was far from over.
Mt. Zion was forced to punt again after senior Beau Geier broke up a long pass attempt.
Tracy then scored on a 44-yard run on Metamora’s first play to make it 28-7 with 1:46 left in the half. The “double handoff” play fooled the Mt. Zion defense and just about everyone else (have you seen the television footage?) who thought the handoff was going up the middle to Ferguson. Instead, Tracy emerged down the sideline carrying the ball with a clear path to the end zone.
“Everyone was watching for the motion in the middle,” Tracy said. “Nobody expected me to end up with the ball.”
Mt. Zion’s Caleb Hawkins fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Metamora sophomore Sam Ryan recovered the ball at the Mt. Zion 44-yard line with 1:40 still left on the clock.
Three plays later, Fay hit Geier for a 50-yard touchdown pass.
Fay faced heavy pressure and had to scramble to his right before he found Geier wide open 15 yards downfield. Geier caught the pass and ran untouched the rest of the way into the end zone.
“Michael (Fay) improvised on that one,” Ryan said.
The touchdown gave Metamora a 35-7 halftime lead.
Junior lineman Ryan McGowan stopped Smith for a loss and Mt. Zion had to punt on its first possession of the second half.
Fay opened the Redbirds’ drive with an 11-yard completion to senior Brett McKinney. Ferguson ran for three first downs and junior Charlie Nowotnik capped the drive with a 22-yard touchdown run to make it 42-7.
Mt. Zion’s Jordan Brown made a nice return on the kickoff before he was tackled by Metamora kicker Brennen VanMieghem at the 42-yard line.
But the Braves fumbled on the next play.
Tracy picked up the fumble and sprinted into the end zone for a touchdown to give Metamora a 48-7 lead (the extra point was blocked).
Tracy credited Bieneman, sophomore Blake Mason and senior Mark McDaniel for causing the fumble, but it looked like senior nose tackle Drew Cullett delivered the initial hit that caused the ball to come loose.
The touchdown triggered the running clock (if a team is ahead by 40 or more points in the second half, then the clock runs continuously) for the second straight game.
“We started to wear them down,” Burch said. “Once we got that big lead, they couldn’t get back into it.”
Don’t expect a running clock this week when the Redbirds play at Pontiac (11-0) in the quarterfinals.
“Everything cranks up a notch now,” Ryan said. “When you get to the quarterfinals, you know you are going to be facing a really good team.”
Pontiac beat IVC, 31-15, Saturday behind 198 rushing yards from Chase Alford.
“We’re getting better,” Ryan said. “But, we’re going to have to play a great game against Pontiac. It will be a challenge for us. We’ll have to have a good week of practice to get ready for that one.”
The winner of that game will face either Rochester (11-0) or Quincy Notre Dame (9-2) in the semifinals.
• Tom Batters is sports editor of the Woodford Times. He can be reached at 686-3261, or email@example.com.