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Homecoming success! Spartans shutout Indians

After the final horn sounded, the Spartan football team along with student fans and cheerleaders celebrated their homecoming victory reciting, with enthusiasm, the school song. St. Joseph-Ogden picked up win number four after beating the Pontiac Indians 19-0 on Friday.

The shutout was the first for SJO since joining the Illini Prairie Conference. The last time the Spartans recorded one was nearly three years ago in a 44-0 rout over Rantoul on September 30 back in 2016. It was also the first time since their conference alliance St. Joseph-Ogden walked away from one of their gridiron confrontation with the Indians, who by the way led the series 2-0 until this weekend, victorious.

Spartan running back Brayden Weaver is wrapped up by Pontiac's Kodi Davis and Payton Cramer during on of his three touches against the Indians. Weaver was limited to 12 yards on the ground and 1-yard catch on Friday. Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks

The St. Joseph-Ogden defense rained havoc on the Indians (1-4), who started three freshman on the offensive line due to early season injuries to veteran players. Offensively, the defensive unit held the visitors to just 145 yards on the ground and an even 100 in the air.

"I think our defense is really starting to figure it out," said head coach Shawn Skinner. "They play well together. They play hard. Coach (Bob) Glazier does a great job with them."

Heading into week six, St. Joseph-Ogden has the second best defense in the league allowing just 43 points. Unity remains number one with 24.

"We've kind of figured out what our identity is," Skinner said. "We are a pretty good defensive team and we have guys who can make plays on special teams. We've got to some how, some way, shore up our offense."

He added: "We've got to do a better job on the offensive side of paying attention to detail."

SJO's offensive effort started off with a bang.

He is an electric kid. He can make plays. You saw his speed."
~ Head coach Shawn Skinner

The Spartans lit their half the scoreboard the earliest they have all season when Crayton Burnett unloaded floater into the outstretched arms of Brady Buss for 62-yard touchdown pass. The PAT was good, giving SJO a 7-0 lead with the elapse of just a minute and 37 seconds off the play clock.

Other than a couple of flashes of greatness, the offense stuttered and sputtered the rest of the evening.

"We made that big play at the beginning of the game, (then) our passing game kind of slowed down a little bit," said Burnett, who connected on seven of his 18 pass attempts for 120 yards. "I just got to hit my open receivers when I can."

Friday night's offensive potency is stark contrast from the season opener with St. Thomas More and the following game against Rantoul where SJO posted 24 first downs against the Sabers and 20 on the road against the Eagles. For the second consecutive week, the Spartans was held to just eight first downs the entire game.

Not satisfied and confident that his team will work toward play at their potential, Burnett added: "Once we can get our offense to the level we want it to be, we can be really good."
Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks

Racing past a pair of Pontiac defenders, Brady Buss makes a 68-yard touchdown run on a punt return electrifying Spartan fans and giving his team a 13-0 advantage.

St. Joseph-Ogden put another six on the board after forcing Pontiac to punt the ball away early in the second quarter. Brady Buss hauled the ball in and zipped down the visitor's sidelines for a 68-yard touchdown.

"He is an electric kid. He can make plays. You saw his speed," Skinner said. He praised his special teams coach for moving Buss into one of the two return slots. "Coach (Marshall) Schacht made that move two weeks ago. It was a great move by him. He is a threat for us."

The extra point attempt failed giving the Spartans a precarious 13-0 lead at halftime.

After a scoreless third quarter, the St. Joseph-Ogden offense marched the ball down the field in the fourth setting up a 4-yard touchdown courtesy of Jarrett Stevenson.

In his first game back after a two-week recover from an injury sustained against the Rantoul Eagles, Stevenson added 52 yards to bring his season rushing total to 324. He was happy to be back in pads and contributing.

"It's incredible stepping back on here with my brothers," he said. "It's great."

However, Stevenson was brutally honest about his performance in the first half.

"I played the worse first half of my life," he said. "I came back in the second half and enjoyed myself. I was able to run and get off that rust that I had."

Improving to 4-1, SJO needs just one more win to be playoff eligible for an at-large bid and another to guarantee themselves a spot in the IHSA postseason. Next Friday's road game at Prairie Central is critical in that regard and the coaching staff impressed upon the players the importance of practice in the week ahead.

The path to the playoff presents bigger obstacles on the Spartans' schedule after this Friday. IVC, undefeated at 5-0, and Monticello, last year's Class 3A state champions and in three-way tie for second in the conference with SJO and Unity, stand in the way.

But first, the team will enjoy the weekend homecoming gaiety.

"It's a good feeling. (I) definitely feel good about this win and will enjoy it," said senior lineman Conner Hodge. "Come Monday (we're) ready to work."

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