They say that defense wins championships.
That could not be truer than the St. Joseph Junior Varsity Youth program, which won the Central Illinois Youth Football League championship by a score of 14-13 over the Danville Seahawks on Sunday afternoon at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.
All season, the Spartans JV team used their stingy defense to wrangle opponents, only giving up 26 points the entire season. According to head coach Matt McKinney, he attributes the defense as the main catalyst to his team bringing home the title.
“Our defense has been outstanding all season and has only given up five touchdowns, and four of them were to the Seahawks. They have been in some tough positions with their backs against the wall, but they have stood tall and kept the other team out of the end zone. Stuffing the extra point attempt was the difference in Sunday’s game,” McKinney said regarding the defensive effort all season and the key play in Sunday’s game that proved to be deciding factor.
Gary Page, who was the defensive coordinator, worked tirelessly during the last two weeks of the season after the Spartans suffered their first loss of the season, 12-8 to the Seahawks in week five of the regular season at Garfield Park in Danville.
Knowing that loss stung, the Spartans took the setback as a lesson and vowed that they would see the Seahawks again, most likely in the title game.
McKinney, Page and the offensive line coaches, Derek Von Meenon and Jake Wagner, decided to change things up once the playoffs began since the Spartans received a first-round bye by virtue of their second place regular season finish. The coaches had players watch film of themselves playing on a few occasions, and according to McKinney, that made a huge difference in the attitude of the players during practice.
“Offensively, I couldn’t be prouder of our linemen. The first time we played the Seahawks, we did not block well and we struggled to move the ball. Yesterday, we were pushing their d-line backwards and creating monster holes. We were also able to go on different counts and keep their defense off balance. I believe the biggest reason for our improvement on the offensive line was watching film of ourselves when we played Urbana. We coaches didn’t know how well a film session would go with a classroom full of 5th and 6th graders, but we decided to give it a shot. For most of the players, this was the first time that they had ever seen themselves play. I think it really woke some of them up and they knew that they could do better. They proved it yesterday,” McKinney added about all the work his team put in to prepare for the Seahawks a second time.
Throughout the season, the Spartans shut out their opponents five of the eight games, and in the three contests where the opponent scored, they allowed 6, 12 and 13 points, respectively. That’s domination.
The excitement of the young Spartans playing on the same field that the Fighting Illini play on showed before, during and after the game, as McKinney alluded to after his team had hoisted the trophy.
“Yesterday was a roller coaster of emotions. Before the game even starts, you could see the excitement and anticipation in the players’ eyes to be playing in the Championship game at Memorial Stadium. There were a lot of nerves before the game, and we coaches are probably the worst ones, but we try not to show it. After the kickoff though, everyone breaths and the players go to work. But then throughout the game we experienced every emotion you can think of,” McKinney said about the range of emotions on the day.
With the recent decline of the program numbers-wise after the junior varsity level, that is a trend that McKinney would like to change, and he is going to do his part to see that a varsity level returns to the youth program as early as next season.
“I’m going to start talking to kids about coming out next year so we can get a varsity program back at SJO. There is too much talent on this team, as well as the pee-wee team to not have them continue,” McKinney said about his desire to keep youth football going strong in the community.
Members of the 2019 C.I.Y.F.L Champions are as follows:
1 Logan Rosenthal
2 Paityn Mann
4 Kaden Wedig
5 Jonathon Moore
7 Cameron Buskirk
8 Brayden Waller
10 Wyatt Wertz
12 Kodey McKinney
18 Jackson Glasa
23 Chevy Williams
26 Eli Garrett
30 Landon Frick
33 Garrick Page
34 Hunter Van Meenon
40 Mason Olinger
50 Cam Wagner
54 Elias Krall
62 Matthew Alexander
64 Nathan Wagner
80 Tim Blackburn-Kelley
84 Coy Hayes
89 Caleb Cotter
Gary Page III
Derek Van Meenon