Chester's young football team -- with nine seniors, 15 juniors and 16 sophomores -- had a hard time containing the Fairfield Mules last Friday at W.O. Smith Field.
The undefeated Mules (3-0) are among the favorites in this year's Black Diamond Conference, and came into the game ranked 7th in Class 3A and carrying a conference winning streak of 22 games dating back to 2016. They lived up to their hype on Friday, maintaining their composure at key times in the contest to control the game and take home a decisive 36-0 win.
Still, Coach Billy Belton's Yellow Jackets (1-2) came into the game confident. They held their own in the first quarter and stuck to their game plan, resulting in a 0-0 tie after one quarter of play.
First quarter, 0-0
Chester won the toss and chose to receive the opening kickoff. Fairfield dug into their bag of tricks right off the bat and tried an onside kick -- which failed, when Chester sophomore Nate Heffernan grabbed the bouncing ball at the 50-yard line, giving the Jackets excellent field position to start the game.
Ethan Bert ran the ball for 23 yards on the first play from scrimmage and got a first down on the Fairfield 27 yard line. Jordan Merideth ran the ball to the 22-yard line and Ethen Eggemeyer got down to the 18.
On the next play, Bert was stopped for a 3-yard loss. Just like that, the Jacket locomotive was derailed as Chester went for first down and the pass failed. Fairfield took over on downs at their 21 yard line.
The Jacket defense was tough, however, and kept the Mules from advancing further than the Chester 48-yard line. The Mules punted and Chester started the next series on their own 28.
After a Jacket penalty pushed them back five yards, Chester quarterback Dylan Kelkhoff connected to Ethan Bert with a neat 11-yard pass. On the next play Bert lost three yards and a third-down pass play failed. CHS punter Jacob Miller came out and Fairfield took over on their 34-yard line.
The Mules got a first down, but Chester's defense forced them to punt with 1:05 left in the first quarter. Kudos to Aiden Jany, Jared Landeros, Jacob Miller and Ethen Eggemeyer.
With 55 seconds left in the quarter, the Chester sideline was penalized 10 yards and two plays later the clock ran out to end the first quarter.
Second quarter, 24-0
The misery started early. Backed up on their 10-yard line on fourth down, Chester needed to punt. The snap to kicker Jacob Miller went over his head and Fairfield downed the ball in the end zone for a safety.
The Mules then ran the kickoff to the Chester 45-yard line, and four plays later, Fairfield's Wyatt Gilbert scored a touchdown from one yard out. Kane Hixenbaugh then ran it in for a two-point conversion and Fairfield led, 8-0 at 10:13.
Chester lost yardage on their next possession and had to punt with 8:25 in the quarter. Fairfield went three and out. On Fairfield's possession, Chester Jacob Miller intercepted a Landon Zurliene pass and ran for five yards.
Chester had the ball on the Mules' 40-yard line with 5:05 to play and it appeared as if the Jackets might make a move to score. Back-to-back runs by Ethen Eggemeyer moved the ball to the 33 yard line and Dylan Kelkhoff completed a successful pass to Jordan Merideth for a first down at the 31.
But penalties doomed the drive. The first was a 10-yard holding penalty followed by back-to-back incomplete passes. Kelkhoff then connected with Ian Reith on a nice 6-yard pass, but a false start penalty brought it back. A failed pass on 4th down attempt meant the Jackets turned the ball over on downs.
With 3:23 left in the half the Mules orchestrated a 2:32 drive resulting in an eight-yard touchdown by Wyatt Gilbert. Vance Hendrick ran for a 2-point conversion and Fairfield led 16-0 with 1 minute left in the half.
Fairfield tried another onside kick, but Ethen Eggemeyer got the ball and ran to the Mules' 36. Kelkhoff connected with Ian Reith for a huge 24-yard pass, taking the ball to the 12-yard line with 33 seconds left.
Then the Jackets lost five yards on a false start penalty. On the next play, Kelkhoff attempted a touchdown pass, but it was intercepted. A lateral pass got it to Fairfield's work horse, Wyatt Gilbert, who ran 90 yards for a touchdown.
With no time on the clock, the two-point conversion failed and the Mules were called for a false-start penalty.
Chester kicked off to Fairfield and were penalized for an illegal kicking procedure.
After a three-yard run by Fairfield's Cade Carter, the Mules' receiver caught a pass but fumbled on the tackle and Chester recovered.
In spite of good runs by Aiden Jany and Ethan Bert, and a Yellow Jacket first down, Chester failed to get a second first down and turned the ball over on downs. Fairfield started on the Chester 40-yard line and marched for a fourth touchdown. The extra point kick missed, and FHS led 30-0.
Chester could not orchestrate a significant drive in the final 2:05, but still had possession of the ball to start the 4th quarter.
Two Dylan Kelkhoff passes were incomplete to start the quarter. Facing 3-18, a final long pass to Aiden Jany agonizingly just missed his fingertips.
On Fairfield's next possession Chester held them to three and out.
On Chester's first play from scrimmage, Ethan Bert ran for a touchdown, but it was nullified by a holding penalty.
The next play, Bert fumbled and the loose ball was recovered by the Mules' Hunter Scarbrough who ran it in for a touchdown. The extra point kick failed and Fairfield led, 36-0 with 9:44 to play in the game.
The Jackets had the ball for most of the remainder of the game, but failed to score. The The final 9:44 was messy -- with numerous Yellow Jacket penalties and several Mules' infractions.
Chester: 61 offensive plays for 167 yards (66 of them passing); 7 1st downs, 2 turnovers (1 lost fumble, 1 interception); 14 penalties cost 85 yards.
Fairfield: 55 offensive plays for 207 yards, all on the ground; 14 1st downs, 2 turnovers (1 lost fumble, 1 interception); 3 penalties costing 23 yards.
CHS passing: Kelkhoff, 1-6/61 yards
FHS passing: Zurliene, 1-4/0 yards
CHS rushing: Aiden Jany, 3 runs/35 yards; Ethan Bert, 8 runs/25 yards
FHS rushing: Kaleb Wells, 7 runs/56 yards; Wyatt Gilbert, 10 runs/54 yards and 2 touchdowns; Cade Carter, 7 runs/37 yards
CHS receiving: Ethan Bert, 2 catches/23 yards
FHS receiving: Kane Hixenbaugh, 1 catch/0 yards
CHS tackles: Ethan Bert, 5 solo/2 assists; Ethen Eggemeyer, 3 solo/5 assists; Jacob Miller, 3 solo/5 assists; Jared Landeros, 3 solo
FHS Tackles: C. Currier, 5 solo/1 assist; Cade Carter, 3 solo/1 assist