There were a lot of similarities between the Oakwood Comets and Nokomis Redskins, who squared off in round one of the playoffs on Friday, Nov. 1.
Both teams featured a hard-hitting defense, a run-first offense and a fan base hungry for their team's first playoff win in a long time. For Nokomis, it had been since 2006 since they had made the second round of the playoffs, a drop in the bucket compared to the Comets, who hadn't won a playoff game in 31 years.
One of those streaks had to come to an end on Friday, and to the chagrin of the Redskin faithful, it was the longer of the two that fell as Oakwood picked up a 20-0 victory on a cold November night in Fithian.
The Comets would score two of their three touchdowns on pass attempts, but those were the only two passes quarterback Rhett Harrison would complete as the Oakwood run game was the story for the home team.
The combo of Gaven Clouse and Colby Smiley were held well under their season averages, but still rolled up 178 yards on 33 carries, with Jack Carey adding 74 yards on five carries to complete the Comet rushing triumvirate.
Nokomis came into the game with its own bulldozers, the tandem of Adam Lyons and Ryan Janssen, who entered the game with more than 1,700 yards between them. The combination of an early shoulder injury to Janssen on Friday and a tenacious Oakwood defense would slow the tandem though, with Lyons picking up 45 yards on 15 carries and Janssen running eight times for 22 yards.
While his offensive production was limited due to the injury, Janssen made his impact on defense early on, recovering a fumble on Oakwood's first drive to give Nokomis the ball at their own 31. The Redskins would make it into Comet territory, but would give the ball up on downs after a pass to Jake Watson wasn't enough for the first down.
Oakwood nearly made the Redskins pay on their first play of their second drive as Gaven Clouse busted free for what appeared to be a 57-yard touchdown, but a penalty flag called back the score and put the Comets on the 50 yard line.
The hosts would get back on track though, putting the ball on the ground four straight times and benefitting from a pass interference on the Redskins to get to the Nokomis 20. On first and ten, Harrison would find Clouse on a short pass to the right side, with the sophomore running back breaking tackles to find the end zone and break up the scoreless tie.
Neither team would score in the next three possessions, but Oakwood got back on the board with four minutes left in the second when Colby Smiley caught a pass from Harrison after the Nokomis defender slipped and sprinted 66 yards for the score, breaking a couple of tackles along the way.
Down 14-0, Nokomis tried to put something on the board before the halftime horn and drove into Oakwood territory with a 17-yard run by Adam Lyons. Three plays after Lyons' scramble, Nokomis found themselves facing fourth and four and handed the ball to Janssen, who picked up four yards, but came up inches short of a first down according to the measurement.
In the final moments of the first half, Nokomis intercepted Harrison three times, but never received possession of the ball. Twice the Redskins were called for pass interference, with the other pick going back to the Comets after a fumble by Nokomis on the return.
Oakwood would have one last play from the Nokomis ten to end the quarter, but a heads up play by Alex Tosetti to bat down Harrison's pass in the end zone ended the half with the Comets' in front by two scores.
Hoping to replicate their playoff clinching performance against East Alton-Wood River, when they were also down 14 at the half, Nokomis looked to rally in the third quarter.
The Comets came out ready though, marching down the field with a rotation of Clouse and Smiley before an eight-yard run by Clouse made it 20-0 with 8:33 to play.
That would be Oakwood's only score of the second half as the Redskins forced a turnover on downs on the Nokomis 25 in the next series, then forced a punt late in the fourth quarter to keep the Comets at 20 points.
With Janssen at half speed and the Oakwood defense defending both the run and the pass well, Nokomis wasn't able to get much going on offense. They would fumble in Comet territory in each of their next two drives, giving the ball back at the 37 and the 45.
By the time they got possession back for the third time, the clock was their biggest enemy and Oakwood would close out the game with an interception on third and ten and the victory formation on offense. They will move on to play Pana, who defeated Red Bud 46-12 on Saturday, in a rematch of last year's opening round.
The loss was a tough pill for the Redskins, who had battled back from a 1-2 start to the season to win their final six games. The senior-laden squad, led by Lyons, Janssen, Tosetti, Derick Bell, Quentin Jamieson, Gavin Vincent and Koester Cook, made its presence felt in 2019 and set a solid standard for the underclassmen to look up to in the future.
As they say in Nokomis, "all it takes is all you got," and the Redskins definitely gave it their all on Friday.
November 1 at Fithian
Nokomis (7-3) 0 0 0 0 0
Oakwood (8-2) 7 7 6 0 20
1st: Oakwood - Gaven Clouse 20-yard pass from Rhett Harrison (Caleb Lashuay kick)
2nd: Oakwood - Colby Smiley 66-yard pass from Rhett Harrison (Caleb Lashuay kick)
3rd: Oakwood - Gaven Clouse 8-yard run (kick failed)
Passing: Nokomis - Alex Tosetti 4-9-39, Connor Overby 0-2-0. Oakwood - Rhett Harrison 2-9-86, Colby Smiley 0-1-0.
Rushing: Nokomis - Adam Lyons 15-45, Ryan Janssen 8-22, Jake Watson 3-7, Alex Tosetti 3-2, Landon Engleman 2-(-6); Oakwood - Gaven Clouse 18-96, Colby Smiley 15-82, Jack Carey 5-74, Rhett Harrison 3-1, Blaine McCord 1-0.
Recieving: Nokomis - Ryan Janssen 2-22, Matthew Hill 1-13, Jake Watson 1-4. Oakwood - Colby Smiley 1-66, Gaven Clouse 1-20.