GIBSON CITY - Like the saying goes, it’s not about how you fall, but how you get back up.
The GCMS football team overcame early struggles and almost pulled off an incredible quarterfinal win Saturday, before their historic season came to a close.
With the Falcons’ (11-1) run into the school’s history books ending in a heartbreaking 14-13 loss to Arcola (12-0), it’s their response that will set the tone for the seniors’ post-football lives.
Four individual plays will stand out when the players look back on it, as each one could have resulted in a win for GCMS if the play had gone differently.
Even after each mistake, GCMS found a way to bounce back.
A fourth down penalty came first, when GCMS jumped offside and opened the door for Arcola to score the first touchdown.
On the Falcons’ ensuing drive, a GCMS fumble put the Purple Riders in the red zone and led to another touchdown to make it 14-0.
From there the Falcons’ defense regrouped and wound up limiting Arcola’s star quarterback, Clayton Strader, to 71 total rushing yards on 30 carries, an average of 2.4 yards per carry.
Meanwhile, Arcola running back Wyatt Fishel managed just 42 yards on 17 carries.
Take away the two key defensive mistakes, and GCMS may very well have shut out an undefeated squad that was averaging 56.6 points per game, while scoring 42 in their lowest scoring outing.
Offense heats up
Just two plays after the second Arcola touchdown, senior running back Nick Meunier broke loose for a 63-yard touchdown run that made it 14-7.
Then, after cornerback Zach Johnson intercepted a pass, Falcon quarterback Keegan Allen found tight end James Fairfield in the end zone on a diving 18-yard touchdown catch.
The extra point kick was blocked, and Arcola retained a 14-13 lead midway through the second quarter.
Later on, with GCMS in the red zone after a 26-yard run by Meunier, an interception in the end zone ended a potential lead change.
The Falcons responded once again with two straight defensive turnovers on downs inside their own red zone to keep their season alive.
On the final drive of the game, Nick Meunier caught a 38-yard pass near midfield with about 20 seconds remaining.
GCMS failed to convert on a hook and ladder a few plays later to come up just short of a thrilling comeback.
The interception, blocked extra point, red zone fumble and defensive offside will surely cling to the minds of the Falcon seniors.
But considering their in-game response to each play, one can expect they’ll bounce back from the loss and be able to reflect on what they accomplished this season.
“They never quit,” coach Mike Allen said in a WGCY Radio interview after the game. “They are just tremendous leaders and they’re going be dearly missed, not just as football players but as men. It’s been an honor to be able to coach them.”
The squad tied the school record for wins in a season, finished the regular season undefeated for the first time in 58 years and cultivated a culture of class that is respected by the masses.
Allen described his nine seniors as “gentlemen,” “class acts,” “leaders” and “an incredible group of young men” for what they’ve done for the program and for their positive influence on the younger players.
“Our program is in great shape because of the leadership they’ve shown this year and the work ethic and the unselfishness,” Allen said. “You don’t get that too often. Hopefully they’ll all come back and live in our community, because our community will be better because of them.”