GIBSON CITY — En route to increasing its win streak to 29, Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley overcame something it hadn’t faced in any of their previous 18 regular-season games — a halftime deficit.
The two-time defending state champion Falcons erased an 8-7 deficit with 25 consecutive points en route to a 32-8 win over Ford County-rival Paxton-Buckley-Loda.
“We told them (at halftime) that we shot ourselves several times in the foot in the first half and we just have to correct the mistakes that we were making," GCMS head coach Mike Allen said.
“I wasn’t worried. Our kids didn’t play as well as we hoped and made some mistakes on both sides on the ball. I think there were some first-game jitters and we were just feeling things out. We just kind of kept our composure. We told them what they need to correct. They were small things that really came down to effort and knowing who to block, and they corrected those mistakes in the second half, and it helped us out a lot.”
Cade Elliott came up with an interception on the first play of the second half for GCMS's defense, giving the Falcons the ball on PBL's 36-yard line.
"We knew they were coming out to try to pass on us. We just had to do our jobs, and we would be alright," GCMS sophomore Aidan Laughery said. “We made adjustments at halftime defensively, too. We just played really hard."
Laughery ran for 15 yards on a counter run. After two runs by Kean and another by Laughery, GCMS faced a fourth-and-2, Laughery scored on a 13-yard touchdown run to give GCMS a 13-8 lead with 9:25 left in the third quarter.
That followed a first half in which Laughery had six carries.
“We had to pick those carries up, and we corrected some things on the line," Allen said. "Payton Kean did a great job at fullback blocking. Our line did a great job, and Aidan did just an outstanding job running and making some holes for himself.”
It was the first of three rushing touchdowns for Laughery as he scored again from 18 yards out with 1:08 left in the quarter.
Following his first touchdown run, PBL took over from its own 24-yard line. Jarred Gronsky caught a pass on second-and-12, moving the ball to the 40-yard line.
Gunner Belt ran the ball for six yards on the next play, After Zac Jayne ran for three yards, Belt scampered for a first down for a first down.
After runs by Belt, Hunter Anderson and Drake Schrodt combined to gain eight yards, Gronsky dropped a pass on fourth-and-2, forcing the Panthers to turn the ball over on downs on GCMS's 42-yard line.
“There were a couple of mistakes that we needed to finish off," PBL head coach Josh Pritchard said.. We’re going to be alright. GCMS is just really good, and there’s a reason why they’re No. 1.”
Two plays later, Laughery ran for 12 yards on second-and-9 on a jet sweep.
After a 9-yard run by Laughery and a Kean scamper on second-and-1, the Falcons had a first down on PBL's 31-yard line.
Laughery ran for 10 more yards on the next play. A 3-yard scamper by Kean was followed by Laughery's second touchdown.
“We came out flat in the first half. We went into halftime and made some adjustments. We talked about some things. The line really adjusted well," Laughery said. "They gave me the lanes to run. I give it all to them. It was just a great team effort.”
On the second play of PBL's ensuing possession, it fumbled on an option play.
The Falcons recovered on the Panthers' 25-yard line.
“We started giving them some short fields, and of course, really good teams — especially No. 1 teams in the state — are going to capitalize on those things,” Pritchard said.
Three plays later, Laughery scampered nine yards for another touchdown with 11:17 left in the fourth quarter.
Laughery finished the game with 124 rushing yards on 17 carries.
“It’s awesome when you’ve got a line that goes out there and puts it out on the line for you," Laughery said. "Hopefully, they’ll just keep blocking hard.”
After PBL returned its ensuing kickoff to its own 10-yard line, Keegan Kutemeier intercepted a pass and returned the pick to the Panthers' 22-yard line.
From there, Laughery ran for seven yards before two runs by Kean resulted in a first-and-goal before a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Isaiah Chatman on third-and-goal extended GCMS's lead to 32-8 with 7:24 remaining in the fourth quarter.
All three turnovers forced by GCMS’s defense in the second half were in PBL territory.
“That was big. Whenever we’re able to play on a short field, it gives our kids some confidence," Allen said. "Momentum’s a tough thing in high school — once you get it, it’s tough to let go of it, and our kids just took advantage of it.”
When PBL’s Drake Schrodt made a sliding catch in the north end zone for a 15-yard touchdown, and Hunter Anderson ran a sweep along the left side for the two-point conversion, the Panthers led 8-7 with 5:41 left in the second quarter.
The drive started after PBL’s Drew Diesburg intercepted a pass with 8:22 left in the second quarter. It was the second pick that PBL’s defense produced off GCMS quarterback Cade Elliott in the first half, as Gavin Coplea picked off a pass in the red zone with 4:18 left in the first quarter.
“We have to develop our passing game," Allen said. "We have to give the quarterback a little more time to throw the ball, and then we have to make better decisions. That’s something that will come in time. Our quarterback is an outstanding quarterback. It’s just tough to get the jitters away in the first starting game as a varsity starting quarterback. We have to get the line going early and realize that we can’t wait to play until the second half.”
Three plays after Diesburg's pick, a pass connection from Belt to Coplea on third-and-10 put the ball on GCMS’s 20-yard line. Schrodt's scoring catch came two plays afterwards.
Isaiah Chatman scored a go-ahead touchdown for GCMS via a 23-yard run with 1:25 left in the first quarter. On the previous play, a second-and-2 run by Payton Kean for a first down was the first time either team moved the chains.
The drive that led to Chatman's first-quarter touchdown started on PBL's 33-yard line and lasted three plays. On the Panthers' previous possession, which started on their own 3-yard line after Coplea's interception, Schrodt ran for three yards on two carries before an incomplete pass on third-and-7.
On GCMS's opening possession, Laughery ran for three yards from the Falcons' 31-yard line before Kean ran for two yards. On third-and-5, Laughery was tackled by Diesburg and Coplea for no gain.
"PBL came out and played tough," Allen said. "Their defensive line and linebackers are outstanding, so we had a tough time running anything inside. Their corners and defensive backs took it to the outside, and we didn’t have a chance to get there.”
On the Panthers' first possession, a screen pass from Belt to Schrodt resulted in a tackle by Brandon Mueller for a loss of eight yards. Chatman -- who finished with a team-high eight tackles -- tackled Coplea for a loss of one yard on third-and-9.
On GCMS's ensuing possession, Draven Scroggins tackled Chatman for no gain on second-and-8 before Gronsky broke up a pass intended for Spencer Meenen on third down.
“Our defense played about as well as it could. I thought our defense really flew around. To limit them to seven points in the first half is really nice," Pritchard said. “A lot of our kids who were cramping were playing two ways, and that’s probably part of the reason why they were cramping.
“We really lost the battle of attrition. We had cramps. Even in positions that we thought we were deep at, we were losing four receivers and two running backs — not major injuries, but cramps and stuff like that hurt us.”
The PBL offense went three-and-out prior to Coplea's interception.
Following Chatman's first-quarter touchdown, PBL took over on its own 31-yard run. On second-and-10, Belt -- who finished the game completing 7-of-18 passes for 119 yards -- completed a pass to Gronsky to move the ball to the 44-yard line.
Gavin Workman tackled Belt for no gain two plays later on second-and-9 before Daniel Jones broke up a pass intended for Gronsky on third down.
After Schrodt's touchdown reception, Jones returned the ensuing kickoff to GCMS's own 43-yard line, but Scroggins and Schrodt recorded a tackle for loss of yards on a Chatman reverse run. Dalton Busboom then sacked Elliott for a loss of three yards on third-and-10.
On PBL's ensuing possession, Belt completed a screen pass to Anderson on third-and-15 to move the ball to GCMS's 45-yard line. Belt and Jayne each gained two yards on ensuing runs before an incomplete pass and an encroachment penalty on the Falcons resulted in a fourth-and-1.
Kean tackled Schrodt short of the first-down marker.
“I don’t think we’re a bad team, and I don’t think that we can’t fix these things," Pritchard said. "I think we’ll be alright this year.”
GCMS 32, PBL 8
PBL 0 8 0 0 -- 8
GCMS 7 0 13 12 -- 32
G -- Chatman 23 run (Jones run)
P -- Schrodt 15 pass from Belt (Anderson run)
G -- Laughery 13 run (run failed)
G -- Laughery 18 run (Jones kick)
G -- Laughery 9 run (pass failed)
G -- Chatman 1 run (kick failed)
RUSHING -- PBL, Tyler Smith 7-31. GCMS, Aidan Laughery 17-124.
PASSING -- PBL, Gunner Belt 7-18-119. GCMS -- Cade Eliott 0-3-0.
TACKLES -- GCMS, Isaiah Chatman 8 (1 TFL).