SJO football drops to 0-3, team needs to start 'stacking' wins

Coby Miller is wrapped up from behind by a Prairie Central defender. Miller caught three passes for 18 yards and ran for a modest 26 more on seven touches. See more photos from the game here. (Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

One touchdown and a conversion.

Seven points was all the St. Joseph-Ogden football team needed to pick up their first win of the season. After the grass had settled and the bleachers at Dick Duval Field emptied, the teary-eyed Spartans were 0-3 after a heartbreaking 34-28 to visiting Prairie Central.

"Defensively, we couldn't get a stop when we needed to and it was that way from the very beginning," said SJO head coach Shawn Skinner. He pointed to how well the Hawks' moved the ball down the field. "I want to give them credit for running a well-oiled offense but we just couldn't get off the field defense-wise to give our offense a shot."

Prairie Central's Drew Fehr, who would collect 152 yards against the Spartans, put the first six on the scoreboard. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound running back scored from 3 yards out with four minutes remaining in the first quarter. The junior would score again in the next quarter on an 18-yard run to give his team a 20-6 lead.

With no time remaining in the half, a pass from Evan Ingram to Keaton Nolan and a successful 2-point conversion cut SJO's deficit to a manageable six heading into the locker room.

"If we would have had a stop in the first half it would have been a completely different ball game," said Nolan. The senior finished the night with just 26 yards rushing and caught 7 passes for another 87. "We would have been out of here 1-2."

St. Joseph-Ogden coming off back-to-back losses to Monticello, 43-8, and a 33-8 loss to Unity, mustered just 60 net yards with the running game. Meanwhile, the team's air attack, led by Ingram, wasn't too shabby. SJO pass attack netted three touchdowns.

Skinner said that his team's emphasis on passing was "a by-product of what Prairie Central was giving us."

"The game plan wasn't to throw it that much but Evan kind of got hot," he said. "He (Ingram) did a very, very nice job. The offensive line gave him time to throw the ball and we do have skilled guys that can find holes in the zone."

Ingram completed 15 of 23 passes for 203 yards. While there were a couple of close calls, the senior signal-caller did not give up any interceptions.

Prairie Central, on the other hand, completed just one of two passes for 17 yards. The team's first pass resulted in an interception. Hawks' head coach Andrew Quain was committed to running the ball down the Spartans' throat using his dual running back threat of Fehr and Camden Palmore, who was responsible for 145 of this team's 362 net rushing yards.

"We have to do a better job as a team preparing through the week," Skinner said. "Some of it is getting guys back healthy, getting our full roster back. We are going to have to commit during the week to having better practices.

"We are starting to see some things build that we can use offensively. We've got to figure out a way to put it all together one night."

This Friday, SJO will face a team also looking for their first win of the season. Illinois Valley Central lost their season opener at home against Paxton-Buckley-Loda 28-8 and took a 29-6 beating from Monticello.

At 0-3, what will it take for SJO to start winning games?

"We've gotta dig deep," says Nolan. He hopes this weekend the program will turn the corner and find success with a win over IVC. "We have to understand we have to be all-in."

The Grey Ghosts added their third loss last Friday falling at home to Unity, 55-21.

Skinner said practice today and tomorrow will have to be "on point detail-wise".

"It is hard to win football games and the hardest one to get is the first one," he explained. He is confident his athletes can make that happen this week but aware it won't be easy. "These kids have it in them. We've played really tough teams and so has everybody else. We are going to have to earn whatever we get."

With a third of the season in the books and a playoff spot on the line, a victory this weekend will be more than a nudge in the right direction.

"Once we start getting wins, we've gotta start stacking them," Nolan said fully cognitive of what is on the line this Friday and the next five. "We're running low and we got to start stacking them quick."