Smith, Taylor help Spartans topple Rockets

Sep. 2—TOLONO — St. Joseph-Ogden takes the concept of putting its best athlete in space and letting him work almost to an extreme.

Included in the Spartans' vast offensive playbook includes a formation that sends junior wide receiver Coy Taylor roughly 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage. It's not quite a Canadian Football League look. As much as SJ-O coach Shawn Skinner would like it, Taylor can't be in motion before the snap.

But when quarterback Logan Smith pitches it to his top target, Taylor can put his speed and agility to good use. His arm, too, as it turns out.

SJ-O flipped to the trick play portion of its playbook in the fourth quarter Friday night against Unity. Taylor took the pitch from Smith like he had several times previously in the game, but this time he threw a 35-yard pass to Tanner Siems.

One play later Smith scored on a 6-yard quarterback keeper to push SJ-O back on top with 6 minutes, 31 seconds to play.

Smith's final touchdown — it was his fourth of the game — stood up, and the Spartans left Hicks Field with a 38-35 Illini Prairie Conference victory.

"We've got a lot of plays, and we challenge our entire team to be creative," Skinner said. "We've got a lot of tricks in the bag, and (offensive coordinator Dalton Walsh) waited and waited and waited and waited, and he picked the right time. We're not going to put our hand in the dirt and run over people, but we do have cats that can do some things in space. That's just what we're trying to do. We're trying to be creative and allow ours kids to be the best they can be."

SJ-O's top offensive options appreciate that approach.

Smith completed 23 of 29 passes for 309 yards and two touchdowns Friday night, while adding two rushing touchdowns to his final line. Taylor was the primary target with 13 catches for 190 yards and one touchdown, but Siems added seven catches for 120 yards and another score.

"It's almost like backyard football," Smith said of SJ-O's offensive approach. "All you have to do is don't get caught and keep running as fast as you can. I feel really good. I'm really confident in our team, but as I told them (after the game), 'Don't let your heads get too big.'"

Taylor's 35-yard completion to Siems that set up SJ-O's go-ahead touchdown is a result of the work the Spartans put in during the offseason to expand their offensive options. Walsh continues adding to the playbook, too. Taylor's trick play was the result of showing Unity the same formation and same play — a run — and then flipping the script.

"We had it planned," Taylor said. "We were trying to bait the defense to bite on that. I barely got the throw off — I got hit pretty hard — but I"m glad I completed it. Siems made a great catch on it."

Unity couldn't come up with the late defensive stop it needed. A late fumble didn't help the Rockets' cause either, but Eric Miebach still rushed 17 times for 110 yards and a touchdown, Brock Suding delivered a pair of short-yardage scores and Dane Eisenmenger completed 19 of 31 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns to go with one interception on a tipped pass.

"It's early in the year," Unity coach Scott Hamilton said. "We lost a lot of really key kids defensively, and we've just got to figure out how we get better and where we go from here. (The Spartans') tempo and the things that they did moving the ball around and getting the ball to different players, they had a great plan. Their kids played really hard and made plays."