With the entire sporting world shut down, the Nokomis Football Twitter account came rushing to the aid of those in need of something to quell their lust for competition.
“Need a sports fix? Relive the Nokomis at East Alton-Wood River Football game.”
Just a few words and a link to RiverBender.com, the site that originally broadcast the game, but so much more for a football starved audience.
The game was also so much more than just another win on the 2019 schedule for the Coach Paul Watson’s team, whose victory over the Oilers earned them their first playoff berth since 2014. It was a glimpse of Nokomis’ season as a whole, a few lows, a bunch of highs and a fighting spirit that won’t soon be forgotten.
After going 5-4 and just missing the playoffs due to points the year before, Nokomis was poised for a big showing in 2019. Following a seven point win over Sullivan-Okaw Valley to start the season, those high hopes took a pretty sizeable hit as they ran into two playoff teams, eventual second place finisher Central A&M and Prairie State Conference nemesis Alton Marquette. Nokomis would lose both games, by 36 and 33 respectively, and were suddenly staring at a 1-2 record with six games to play.
That mark left little room for error. Five wins wouldn’t be enough. That was proven the year before. So, in order to be playing in November, the Redskins would have to win at least five of their next six games. As it turns out, they did one better.
The Skins would hit the road to take a 35-14 win over Dupo in week four, followed by back-to-back-to-back home wins over Madison (49-24), South Fork (42-14) and Martinsville (55-0) to improve their record to 5-2.
The EAWR game in week eight would be the capper though. Mirroring the start of their season, Nokomis found themselves down at halftime, with the Oilers holding a 14-0 lead on their home field. The Redskins worked the ball down the field after receiving the second half kickoff to cut the margin to seven, but late in the fourth quarter, they still trailed by that amount.
Senior quarterback Alex Tosetti, who was the conference’s offensive player of the year the year before, had been called upon to use his head more than his arm in 2019 as the Redskins opted for a more run oriented game plan after losing their top four receivers. But in those final seconds in Wood River, Tosetti showed that he still has the goods that put him on the radar of Augustana College, where he will be continuing his educational and athletic pursuits.
With 35 seconds to play, Tosetti threw a perfect pass to a wide open Landon Engelman, who sprinted untouched into the end zone for the touchdown. Tosetti and the Redskins worked their magic again on the extra point, with the senior QB popping up from the holder position after the snap and finding Adam Lyons for the go-ahead points.
As the Redskins closed out the game, it was as if a giant weight had been lifted off the team. Already a spirited group, the Skins let loose, both after the score and after the game as they earned their place in Nokomis football history.
They would add the icing to the cake a week later with their sixth straight win, an 8-0 victory over Ridgeview on a field more suitable for water polo than football, which was the team’s most consecutive wins since they won six in a row in 2014.
The dream season would end on a cold night in Fithian against Oakwood, a talented squad who had come close to defeating Pana the year before. The Comets got a second chance against the Panthers in round two, but fell to the South Central Conference power by 47-20.
The end of the season does nothing to take away from the successes of the Redskins though. There would be both team and individual highlights, starting with a defense that allowed the fewest points per game in a season (21) since, you guessed it, 2014, when they allowed 17.9 per contest.
The Redskins also had their highest points scored per game since 2013, another playoff year in which the Skins averaged 41.4 points per contest. While the 2019 squad didn’t put up those kind of numbers, 26.6 points per game, with their defense, they didn’t need to.
That effort was led by senior Ryan Janssen, who became the school’s leading tackler with 422 in his career. Janssen, who had 100 tackles in his senior season, passed both Virginia Tech defensive coordinator and former teammate Ben Marley (a 2018 grad) to reach the record and be named the conference’s defensive player of the year.
Janssen, who was also an honorable mention all-state pick in Class 2A, was a big part of the offense too, rushing for 1,001 yards on 186 carries with 10 touchdowns on the ground. He also caught four passes for 82 yards out of the backfield, where he was a first team all-conference pick.
The other part of Nokomis’ two-headed rushing attack was Adam Lyons, who went for 803 yards on 133 carries with 12 touchdowns. “Nightmare” was exactly that to anyone trying to tackle him, whether it was after a handoff or a reception, which he had nine of to share the team lead with Landon Engelman. Lyons was also fifth in tackles with 30, posting two sacks and a pair of interceptions as he earned second team all-conference honors at defensive back to go along with a first team nod at running back.
Seniors dominated the top tackles list, taking up the top five spots and six of the top eight places. Quentin Jamieson was second in tackles to Janssen with 87 and was the team’s top pass rusher with seven sacks. He would earn first team all-conference honors on the defensive line for his play during the year.
Three other senior linemen/linebackers also earned honorable mentions for the all-conference team. Gavin Vincent was third in tackles with 42, posting one sack and a fumble recovery, while Derick Bell was fourth with 36 tackles, two sacks and two fumbles recovered. Bell also made the all-conference list on offense, getting a second team nod on the line. Koester Cook would be the third honorable mention after posting 25 tackles (eighth most on the team), two sacks and a fumble recovery.
Alex Tosetti was also a first team pick on the defensive side, earning a spot at defensive back for the second straight year. Tosetti had 20 tackles and was tied for the team lead in interceptions, with four, with Connor Overby. Tosetti also threw for 356 yards and six touchdowns and ran for 260 yards and six more scores. Adding in his 12 extra point attempts, at least five passing two-point conversions and four rushing two-point conversions, Tosetti played a part in 110 of the 266 points Nokomis scored.
Like most teams, the seniors will be missed at Nokomis, but a strong group of underclassmen will return in 2020.
Junior Braeston Brummet was a first team all-conference pick at offensive line and a second team pick on the defensive line. Junior Dylan Hayes was also honored twice, with a second team nod on the O-line and an honorable mention at linebacker after recording 28 tackles. Sophomore Connor Overby was also in the top ten in tackles with 27 and was an honorable mention at defensive back.
The oft aforementioned 2014 team was the last of a four year run of playoff teams for the Redskins. Hopefully, 2019 is just the beginning of more playoff appearances for the Nokomis faithful.
2019 Nokomis Football
8/30 at Sullivan 31-24
9/6 at Central A&M 6-42
9/13 Marquette 25-58
9/20 at Dupo 35-14
9/27 Madison 49-24
10/4 South Fork 42-14
10/11 Martinsville 55-0
10/18 at EAWR 15-14
10/26 Ridgeview 8-0
11/2 Oakwood 0-20
Totals (7-3,4-1) 266-210