By Paul Hines
MATTOON — The Rams football team erased a pair of Green Wave leads and scored in the waning seconds to pull out a 43-42 win in the opening round of the 5A playoffs Saturday.
Mt. Vernon pulled within a point with 8.1 seconds left in the game. Quarterback Dylan Reeves rolled right on a bootleg 20 yards away from the end zone. He fired a pass to Jacobee Marshall in the end zone, who found a sliver of space among a swarm of Green Wave defenders.
The Rams elected to try for two points and seize the lead. Demontez Miller-Gray rammed his way through the line and pushed his way in to give the Rams a 43-42 edge.
Miller-Gray led the Rams ground game with 151 yards. C.J. Lloyd also hit triple digits with 111.
Mt. Vernon opened the scoring with a first quarter drive that ended with a two-yard run from Reeves to put the Rams up 7-0. Mattoon dominated the rest of the opening quarter, scoring three times. Twice they recovered Mt. Vernon fumbles to aid their attack. The extra opportunities allowed the Green Wave to take a 21-7 edge.
The Rams struck back in the second quarter. Miller-Gray finished off a drive with a 5-yard run early in the second. Then the Rams recovered an onside kick and drove in for another touchdown, evening the score at 21. Behind consistent running from Lloyd, the Rams ended the half with another score to take a 28-21 edge.
Mattoon was able to contain Mt. Vernon’s offense more effectively in the second half, and the Rams struggled at times to move the ball. The Rams managed to push their lead to 35-21 behind another Lloyd score late in the third. But Mattoon responded with three straight touchdowns to take a 42-35 into the final two minutes.
Mt. Vernon took possession on their 35 yard-line and used runs out of bounds and timeouts to move the ball within striking distance for the Reeves to Marshall completion.
Mt. Vernon is 7-3 this season and plays the winner of the Peoria-Washington matchup. Mattoon finished the season 7-3.