The Chester High School Yellowjackets were the underdogs going into the first round of the 2018 IHSA Class 2A State Football Playoffs.
Written off to lose to 7th seed Warrensburg-Latham Cardinals by the sports pundits, the No. 10 Yellowjackets also had to endure the 4-hour, early morning bus ride to Warrensburg, northwest of Decatur, as well as the wet conditions from the recent rain and the hometown factor on the side of the Cardinals.
However, Chester arrived ready to play.
"We came off the bus fired up," said CHS Head Coach Billy Belton said.
The Yellowjackets proved the naysayers wrong with an impressive 42-20 win on the road Oct. 27 to a good team that was seeded three positions higher that the Yellowjackets.
The win advanced Chester (7-3) into the Class 2A Sweet Sixteen, setting up a second round matchup against the undefeated No. 2 seed Maroa-Forsyth (10-0). at 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 3, at W.O. Smith Field. Tickets for the game are $5.
The Cardinal's season ended with a final record of 7-3.
"We were fast and physical on defense and our playmakers made some plays," Belton said, "Getting off to a good start after the long bus ride gave us some confidence."
That confidence paid off too as the Jackets scored a pair of touchdowns right away in the opening quarter to lead 12-7. Quarterback Nick Meyer connected with senior receiver Keith Kiner III with 6:15 left in the first quarter and Kiner took it in the end zone for a 42-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion failed,
It only took Meyer two minutes after the first CHS score to re-connect with Keith Kiner III again for yet another touchdown, this time a 35-yard completion to Kiner, who scored his second back-to-back touchdown of the game. The two-point conversion filed once again, but Chester then led, 12-0, with just 4:17 remaining in the first quarter.
Just 25 seconds into the second quarter, Warrensburg-Latham let Chester know that the game wasn't over yet as Cardinal wide receiver Mitchell Leathers caught a 33-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Nathaniel Hayes. Kicker Shawn Troike connected for the extra point and the Chester lead suddenly became 12-7 with 11:35 to play in the half.
That didn't faze the Jackets, however, who immediately mounted a five-and-a-half minute drive that resulted in a Drake Bollman 1-yard touchdown run. Meyer hurdled the Cardinal defense for the two-point conversion. Chester extended its lead to 20-7, taking that lead into the locker room at halftime.
Warrensburg-Latham kept up the pressure, starting the second half with a touchdown just a little over a minute into the third quarter as Hayes scored on a 33-yard run at the 10:48 mark. Troike connected for the extra point and Warrensburg pulled within six points, 20-14.
But the Jackets answered that within a minute and scored again, this time on a Meyer 28-yard pass to Ethan Bert for a Jacket touchdown. The two-point conversion failed, but Chester then extended its lead to 26-14 with 8:54 to play in the third quarter.
Five minutes later Meyer found Bert again, this time on a 78-yard touchdown pass giving Bert his second touchdown of the third quarter. Meyer's hot hand then found Kiner for the two-point conversion and the Jackets extended their lead, to 20-points, 34-14.
The Yellowjackets kept the "Bee Hive Express" rolling in the final quarter. scoring again on a 6-yard running touchdown by Bollman at the 9:21 mark. Ian Reith run into the end zone for the conversion and the Yellowjackets closed the door on Warrensburg-Latham, 42-14.
The Cardinals made one last ditch effort at a victory with 4:55 remaining in the game as Hayes hit wide receiver Mitchell Leathers for a 38-yard touchdown pass to bring the Cardinals within 22 points, 42-20. Conner Maloney's extra point kick failed and Chester led, 42-20.
The YellowJacket defense did what they did so well throughout the game and held the Cardinals in the final 4:55 to secure the victory and allow the Jackets to advance to the round of 16 teams.
For the game The Jackets ran 68 plays compared to Warrensburg-Latham's 43 plays. Chester had a total of 416 yards offense while the YellowJacket defense held the cardinals to just 230 yards.
Chester's Nick Meyer threw for a grand total of 313 yards while WLHS quarterback Nathaniel Hayes threw for only 147. CHD rushed for 103 yards compared to the Cardinal's 83 yards.
The Jackets were 3-for-13 on third down bids (31 percent) and Warrensburg was 3-for-8 on third down attempts (38%). On fourth down plays Chester was a perfect 3-for-3 (100%0 and WLHS was 0-for-0 (0%).
Chester committed two turnovers; one fumble and one interception. WLHS committed five turnovers; three fumbles and two interceptions. The Jackets were called for 11 penalties. The Cardinals were called for only two penalties.
In Chester's passing game Nick Meyer threw 15 passes and connected on ten of those for 283 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. Ethan Bert threw one pass and completed it for 30 yards. Warrensburg's Nathaniel Hayes completed 9-of-20 passes or a total of 147 yards and two touchdowns.
The Jackets ran the ball 45 times for a total of 103 yards. CHS was led by Drake Bollman who ran 13 times for 36 yards. Other YellowJacket rushers included Ethan Bert (7-for-23); Nick Meyer (8-for-21); and Ethan Rayburn (13-for-21). WLHS was led by quarterback Nathaniel Hayes who ran the ball 14 times for 53 yards.
Chester's Keith Kiner III led the Jackets in pass receptions with four receptions for a total of 136 yards and two touchdowns. Ethan Bert caught five passes for 129 yards. Nick Meyer also caught an Ethan Bert pass for 30 yards and Ethan Rayburn caught a pass for 18 yards. Chester had 11 receptions for a total of 313 yards. Mitchell Leathers led the Cardinals with five receptions for 110 yards.
On defense the Yellowjackets recorded 20 solo tackles led by Eathan Thompson with three. Other Jackets with solo tackles included Ethan Bert, Keith Kiner III, Erik Cowell, and Ethen Eggemeyer with two apiece and Drake Bollman, Ethan Rayburn and Nick James with one apiece. The rest of the team added another three solo tackles. The Cardinals were led in solo tackles by Davis Brumbaugh with four solos.
With the win the Jackets improved to an overall record of 7-3 and advanced to the second round of the playoffs. Warrensburg-Latham was eliminated from the tournament and ended the season 7-3.
The No. 10 Chester Yellowjackets will host a home playoff game in round 2 of the playoffs at W.O. Smith Field at 1 p.m. Saturday November 3. Tickets are $5.00. The Jackets will host No. 2 Maroa-Forsythe (10-0).