The EC Football team had a game for the books on Saturday, as they hosted Millikin University at Langhorst Field.
Though it was Senior Day, sophomore quarterback Orlando Hernandez lead the Bluejays offense yet again. The senior-led defense created six turnovers as they dominated Millikin University, (56-14) handing them their largest loss of the season.
En route to the blowout, the Bluejays re-wrote history, earn- ing the seventh highest amount of points scored against an opponent ever.
The action started early as EC received the opening kick- off, the offense took the field
and the Bluejays went on a 6 play, 66-yard march across the Langhorst Field turf. The drive featured four successful passes from Hernandez, including a 47-yard touchdown strike to junior wide receiver Kaylon Miller.
After a quick three and out by Millikin, the Bluejays’ offense took the field again and added another score, this time by way of a 29-yard Hernandez touchdown run.
Hernandez had one of his finest days as a Bluejay. The Peoria native set a new career high with five total touchdowns through the contest (four on the ground and one through the air). He completed 7 of his 15 pass attempts, threw for 102 yards and ran for 54 more on 13 carries.
When asked about the offensive outburst, Hernandez mentioned that, “Everybody had a good week of practice and I’ve got to give all the credit to the big dogs up front.”
Those big dogs certainly de- serve a great deal of credit. The Bluejay offensive line was led by senior guards Sam Rathbun and Billy Schafer, who both entered this season as returning starters alongside junior center Garrett Underwood, junior tackle Pat Walsh and first-year starter, sophomore tackle Zach Dixon.
That offensive line was a major force all day long, clearing running lanes for Bluejay ball carriers, allowing Offensive Coordinator Kristopher Norton to call 43 running plays that accounted for 188 of the 283 total yards the offense gained.
Riding the momentum of the early lead, the EC defense was able to become aggressive and began what ultimately became the underlying theme of the ballgame when safety Tristan Bolas intercepted a Millikin pass and returned it 26-yards to set up the EC offense with possession near mid-field.
The offense capitalized on the takeaway with a 5 play, 54- yard scoring drive featuring four more rushing attempts, as the Bluejays built themselves a three-touchdown lead after only one quarter of play.
Those three scores were all EC would need as the Bluejay defense continued their harass- ing ways throughout the contest, leading to three additional interceptions, one forced fumble and a blocked punt that was returned for a touchdown.
It was an impressive performance that allowed for the Bluejays to score 35 of their points following takeaways throughout the game.
Hernandez appreciated the defensive performance of his teammates, “We definitely feed off of the other side of the ball,”
he said. “When they are doing well we want to do well for them and we just want to make the most out of a turnover”.
Head Coach Ron Planz kept his team focused and the Bluejays kept their foot on the gas as they continued to pour it on rapidly in the first half, entering the intermission with 35 points. A 50-yard Millikin run late in
the half provided the opposition with an opportunity to add a blemish against the Bluejays defense as a two-yard quarterback run on goal late in the second quarter gave Millikin 7 points, as well as hope for a comeback.
As the second half began, Millikin built upon the momentum they had gained, as they forced a Bluejay turnover and promptly turned it into 7 more points after they completed a pass deep down the field into the EC end-zone.
After holding what was once a five-touchdown advantage, the Bluejays were suddenly looking at a three-score game and possibly a tight second half battle with the Big Blue.
Entering the fourth quarter and looking for a spark, the Bluejays’ offense was prepared to take the field with their sights set on expanding the slimming lead. However, before they could get their hands on the ball the Bluejays’ defense made the play of the game.
With Millikin punting from deep within their own territory, the snap from the Millikin long-snapper went sailing over the head of punter Wyatt Fox and rolled towards the Big Blue end-zone. Bluejay defenders gave chase, but it appeared as though Fox would be able to get a kick away. Enter, EC linebacker Joe Nixon.
The junior defender sprinted past a Millikin blocker and got a hand on the football just after Fox made his kick and the ball was deflected back towards the end-zone, which is where sophomore linebacker Brandon Dominski found it as he rum- bled into the end-zone with his first career score.
The touchdown destroyed the momentum that Millikin had been building and effectively put the game out of reach at 42- 14 with 10:54 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Bluejays added two scores later on as senior wide receiver Korey Partenheimer caught a pair of touchdown passes to make the final score 56-14, the 42-point differential being the largest the Bluejays have posted this season.
The victory leaves the Bluejays record at 5-4, assuring that their final record will be at least .500, which is a step forward from the 4-6 record that was held last year. However, when asked about this feat Hernandez had other thoughts, “5-5 is great, but when we started the season we did not set out to be an average team. We are an elite program. We truly believe that and next year it will show.”
Heading into the final week of the regular season, EC will have a challenge ahead of them as they travel to Naperville to face off against the Cardinals of North Central College, whom EC has not beaten in two years.
North Central will enter the contest holding a top 10 national ranking, a 9-0 record and a 12-game regular season winning streak dating back to last season.
The Bluejays will look to avenge the 56-21 loss that the Cardinals handed them last season.
EC will head to North Central College on Nov. 12 for a 1:00 p.m. kickoff.