Aug. 26—CATLIN — Senior leaders are expected to step up for their teams.
Westville quarterback Drew Wichtowski, battling cramps, did just that on a game-winning 8-play, 60-yard scoring drive in the final minutes to carry the Tigers to a 21-14 victory over the Salt Fork Storm at Byerly-Hageman Field.
Wichtowski, who carried the ball seven times on the drive, finished it with a 7-yard scamper around left end with 2 minutes, 6 seconds left in the Vermilion Valley Conference season opener for both teams.
"He is a senior, that's what is expected from Drew," Westville coach Guy Goodlove said. "He is a playmaker for us and we have to rely on our playmakers to get the job done in that situation."
And, it wasn't anything special. Salt Fork coach Joe Hageman said his Storm knew Wichtowski was going carry the football on that drive.
"When the chips were down, Drew put that team on his back and I thought he carried them to victory," Hageman said. "To me, that's what a great senior football player does for his team. That kid has shown that kind of ability for the last four years, that's him, he's a heck of a football player."
Did Wichtowski expect to carry the ball seven times for 45 yards on that final drive?
"No, I didn't anticipate that because I was cramping in both calves," said Wichtowski of a game that was played in close to 90 degrees. "I really didn't know if I could run the ball.
"Coach (Dylan) Allen asked me if I could finish the game for us. And when I said, 'I could.' That's when he told me I was getting the ball."
Wichtowski had runs of 8, 12 and 4 yards, before the Tigers (1-0) went to running back Trent McMasters for 15 yards. Wichtowski took back over on the next two plays, gaining 3 and 9 yards.
But, the 7-yard touchdown run by Wichtowski was actually supposed to be a sweep for McMasters.
"One of our guards just barely hit the ball on the snap when he pulled out," Wichtowski said. "It fell to my feet, so I just picked it up and ran a sweep to the left. I knew that I had guys out there blocking for me."
Wichtowski beat a pair of Salt Fork defensive backs to corner of the end zone for game-winning score.
"When things break down, that's when a senior leader needs to step up," Hageman said. "He turned a moment that could have been disaster and turns it into gold."
But, like a true senior leader, Wichtowski turned the attention off of him after the game.
"As coaches, we talk to the kids after the game about what we liked and didn't like. Before we broke our huddle, Drew asked if he could say something," Goodlove said.
And what did he say?
"I wanted to give credit to my offensive lineman," he said. "They did a heck of a job blocking. We got those first downs and the score to win the game because of what they did tonight."
Goodlove pointed out senior Tyler Miller, who was making his first-ever start on the offensive line, as being an "unsung hero."
"He came into the season as a tight end/receiver," Goodlove said. "We needed a guard and we asked him to take over that position. He didn't jump for joy, but he stepped in and got the job done.
"As a freshman, he would tend to shy away from contact. Now, he's a senior, playing on the offensive line and it's real deal try to handle the 'A' and 'B' gaps."
The other four starters up front for the Tigers were Grant Beckley, Brennan Burnett, Ethan Miller and Cade Schaumburg.
Salt Fork (0-1) also relied on its offensive line to get the contest tied at 14-14 with 6:04 remaining. Sophomore Ian Church capped a 7-minute drive with a 3-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-goal when he bounced off a defender and spun into the end zone.
"We talked all summer about our returning offensive lineman and we put it on Evan Hageman, Hayden Chew, Evan Webb and Cam Merritt to get it done," Joe Hageman said. "They saw something at halftime and we made the adjustment on that drive. They executed it really well and then we got a great run from Ian Church to finish the drive."
The Storm finished with 214 yards of offense, but Hageman wishes their 8-minute drive at the end of the second quarter would have resulted in a score instead of a fumble inside the 5.
"Without a doubt, that was huge," Hageman said. "We could have been tied at halftime if we score there, and then our fourth quarter drive would have given us the lead."
Junior running back Carter Chambliss, celebrating his 17th birthday, had a team-high 75 rushing yards on 18 carries, while junior Grant Wilson had four receptions for 65 yards, including a 12-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter.
Wichtowski finished with 84 yards on 17 carries, while Trent McMasters, who scored on 28-yard run in the second quarter, had 68 yards on 11 attempts.
At Byerly-Hageman Field, Catlin
Westville 21, Salt Fork 14
Westville '7 '7 '0 '7 '— '21
Salt Fork '0 '7 '0 '7 '— '14
Westville — Drew Wichtowski 8-yard run (Nathan Blue kick), 4:54.
Salt Fork — Grant Wilson 12-yard pass from Jamerson Remole (Ty Smoot kick good)
Westville — Trent McMasters 28-yard run (Blue kick), 8:33.
Salt Fork — Ian Church 3-yard run (Smoot kick), 6:04.
Westville — Wichtowski 7-yard run (Blue kick), 2:06.
Rushing — Westville: Drew Wichtowski 17-84, Trent McMasters 11-68. Salt Fork: Carter Chambliss 18-75, Kamdyn Keller 6-50.
Passing — Westville: Wichtowski 4-9-1 39 yards. Salt Fork: Jameson Remole 6-15-0 83 yards.
Receiving — Westville: Lincoln Cravens 2-18. Salt Fork: Grant Wilson 4-65.
Records — Westville 1-0 overall and 1-0 in the Vermilion Valley Conference. Salt Fork 0-1 and 0-1.