Two football programs headed in opposite directions met on the Nesti Stadium football field Friday.
Class 3A No. 5-ranked Champaign St. Thomas More won 6-0 at Hall, a Class 3A power under former head coach Gary Vicini.
Friday's win continued the rise of the St. Thomas More program, which completed the first 9-0 regular season in school history.
"It's a rush that's all I can really say," said St. Thomas More head football coach Dan Hennessey of going 9-0. "It is definitely a rush. I never dreamed of doing this. â€¦ It's great the way we did it."
Friday's loss left Hall 3-6, which is Hall's worst record since 1986 - five years before any of this year's players were born.
"It's a disappointment," said Hall first-year head football coach Jason Bland. "We wanted to be in the playoffs. We're not there. â€¦ I enjoyed (the season), but from a record standpoint, not making the playoffs is a disappointment."
STM scored the only points of the game halfway through the first quarter.
Hall penalties allowed STM to start its second drive of the game from the Hall 26-yard line.
The first play of the drive, STM senior running back Parker Stewart ran 26 yards for a touchdown down the right sideline.
"I got good blocking around the outside," Stewart said. "I just turned it out and kept guys going downfield. That was great."
STM missed the extra point, and the Sabers led 6-0 with 5 minutes, 43 seconds left in the first quarter.
The next 40 minutes belonged to the punters.
During the 40 minutes following STM's touchdown, neither offense penetrated its opponent's territory enough to get within 30 yards of the end zone.
STM only had two first downs the rest of the game after its touchdown. Hall had seven first downs the final three quarters, but Hall had only one drive with as many as two first downs Friday.
Both teams struggled moving the ball in the muddy conditions.
"The middle of the field - it's just a mud pit," Hennessey said.
"It's like snot," Bland said.
The two teams traded punts the final three quarters. Hall punted nine times Friday, and STM punted eight times. STM junior Julian Boswell totaled 254 punting yards. Hall senior Michael Swingel finished with 233 punting yards.
Hall special teams coordinator Joe Furlan's players provided strong punt coverage on Swingel's kicks all night.
Furlan's guys then provided ideal punt return coverage late in the fourth quarter.
Boswell booted his eighth punt of the game with 2:09 left in the fourth quarter.
Furlan's unit provided a gaping hole down the right sideline.
Hall senior Nathan Tucker found the hole and returned the kick 59 yards to the STM 25-yard line.
Swingel provided a key block on the return near midfield that allowed Tucker to gain the final 25 yards.
"Michael really hustled to get it," Bland said of Swingel's block. "Initially, he was behind the kid and came back to make a legal block. I think it was a big block because the (STM) kid had enough of an angle (to catch Tucker)."
A 2-yard Cody Whightsil run and a 15-yard Swingel pass to junior Anthony Urbanski moved Hall to the 8-yard line. There was 1:13 remaining in the fourth quarter, and Hall had first-and-goal at the 8-yard line.
Two more Whightsil runs got Hall to the 5-yard line for third-and goal.
Hall then went to the air.
Swingel's third-down pass found Whightsil open in the end zone. Whightsil had the ball in his hands in the end zone, but he dropped the pass as he was hit.
It was fourth-and-goal with 44.6 seconds remaining.
STM gave Swingel no time to throw on fourth down. Two defensive ends were in Swingel's face immediately. Swingel had no time to look for receivers, and he just lofted the ball toward the end zone.
Stewart ran at the pass from his linebacker position.
Stewart scored the first points of the game, and he knocked Swingel's pass to the ground with both hands and prevented Hall from scoring the last points of the game.
"I wanted to hit that down so hard. My blood was just pumping, and my adrenaline was going," Stewart said. "I was stressing a little bit. I was stressing. We got it done, but that was shaky."
STM took possession with 38.7 seconds remaining and closed the game with a kneel.
The final 38.7 seconds ran off the clock.
The scoreboard horn sounded and sent both teams in different directions.
St. Thomas More heads to the playoffs.
Hall starts the offseason. The Red Devils' season is over.
n Notes: Swingel had a game-high 78 yards of total offense. â€¦ Stewart had a game-high 69 rushing yards. â€¦ St. Thomas More is ranked No. 5 in Class 3A by The Associated Press.
Erik Hall can be reached at 223-3200, ext. 195, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.