The odor of skunk wafted over the visitor's parking lot Friday night, Sept. 28, as Hillsboro football fans returned to their vehicles in Vandalia; it was as if Mother Nature was re-inforcing the 48-6 drubbing the Vandals had just administered to the Toppers.
Two of the South Central Conference teams who believe in rushing the ball the majority of the time had just finished their annual contest to see which could do that better; and the Vandals, behind a massive, blocking-well offensive line had clearly established their superiority long before halftime. That same line proved adept at playing defense too, surrendering only one sustained drive to the Toppers (in the first quarter) before stopping the Hillsboro backs in their tracks.
The Vandals scored quickly (before a minute had passed) in the first quarter and often in the second quarter; Topper turnovers contributed to two scores, but the Vandals had no trouble converting long drives into points either. It was the sixth successive win over the Toppers for John Stout's team.
The Vandals pounced quickly after recovering a fumble on the Topper 24 as Hillsboro ran their first play from scrimmage. Feature back Ryan Ambuehl reached the five on the Vandal's first carry; fullback Alex Newson scored on the second, and Ambuehl kicked the extra point. Only 40 seconds had expired.
To their credit, the Toppers fought back. After the ensuing kickoff, Luke Cerutti raced for 30 yards on his first carry (he would lead the Topper offense with 42 yards for the game as the Vandal defense quickly keyed on him).
His running mate, Gavin Twitty, burst through the Vandal line for 16, and the Toppers were on the Vandal 33. Two plays later quarterback Matt Tomazzoli faked an option pitch and kept for nine, to the 19; five rushes had amassed 60 yards, so thoughts of a high-scoring affair flittered through Topper fans' minds.
Facing a fourth and eight three plays later, Tomazzoli completed a pass to Koby Lemon for the Toppers' first passing first down of the season; it was first and goal from the five. Then the Vandals clamped down. Four rushes later Vandalia took over on downs on their three; they were 97 yards from a score, but they had analyzed the Topper's blocking schemes and felt dominance coming.
The 97 yards disappeared in eight plays; number four was a 25 yard gain by Newsom and number five was a 32 yard gallop by Ambuehl that stopped on the Topper 18. Luke Smith barged in from the four; Ambuehl's kick was good, and the score was 14-0.
The full realization of how good the Vandal's offense was hit in the second quarter. Smith scored from the 34, 65 seconds into the period; the Toppers managed one first down on their ensuing series, but after the Vandals began after a Topper punt to the Vandal 43, they overcame two holding calls to score again in seven plays.
Quarterback Tim Ritchie was instrumental in the drive, completing the only pass the Vandals threw all night (to Ambuehl for 16 yards) when his team faced a second-and-twenty situation because of one of the penalties and scampering 36 yards on an inside option-keeper to convert that first down. Smith scored again, from the seven, and Ambuehl converted the kick.
The fifth touchdown (in five possessions) came off a turnover deep in Topper territory and set up the second half running clock possibility.
With the ball in the Topper 29, Tomazzoli tried to throw a quick pass, but defensive end Chase Woolsey used the long arms attached to his 6'5" frame to smack the ball into the air. Then he caught it, and only Tomazzoli's quick reaction saved the touchdown as he tackled Woolsey on the seven. Ambuehl, who didn't carry the ball in the second half but who had 92 yards in the first half, scored on the first play from scrimmage after the PK.
The quick clock (a 40 point disadvantage any time in the second half triggers it) became a reality before the first half ended. Another pass completion to Lemon (for eight yards) made a first down tantalizingly close; it was fourth and two on the Topper 33. The running play failed, though, as Cerutti was tackled on his 31, and the ball went to Vandalia.
Seeing a chance to rest starters in the second half, the Vandals became opportunistic. Smith gained 11, Ambuehl seven, then eight, before a tiring because of on-field time defense dropped Ambuehl for a yard loss on the Topper five. On a fourth and goal from the two, Ritchie carried on a sneak for the Vandals sixth TD. Ambuehl's kick was good again; it was 42-0 with 21.2 seconds to play in the half.
The next kickoff probably inspired the skunk to do its thing later as Ambuehl's line drive boot ricochetted off a Topper blocker's knee directly back to Ambuehl for a not-on-purpose-but-successful on-side kick. Mercifully the Vandals didn't try to score again before halftime.
The next score belonged to Hillsboro. Only Newsom of the starting Vandal backs played in the second half, and he had only two carries before he was replaced, but Ambuehl was called upon to punt. The Toppers blocked his only punt and recovered it on the Vandal 27 just before the third quarter ended.
The Toppers faced fourth and 12 on the Vandal 29 when Topper end Jaron Young came right on an end-around. He reached the two before he was tackled; Cerutti broke the shut-out as he scored on the next play. The Toppers lined up for a two-point conversion but drew their first penalty of the game; the subsequent pass was incomplete.
Vandalia kept the ball for most of the rest of the game; their second team drove from their 27 to a score using 12 plays, with sophomore quarterback Collin Nestleroad adding the last six points with a 23 yard run with 3:33 to play. His kick wasn't good; perhaps that was the only flaw the Vandals experienced in the game. The skunk let loose its opinion about life, mirroring Topper fans' opinion about the contest.
Only one team has defeated the Vandals thus far this year; and that team, the Carlinville Cavaliers, will be in Hillsboro this Friday night, Oct. 5.