DOWNS — El Paso-Gridley High School's highly productive, "grind-it-out" offense was ground to a near halt by a stingy Tri-Valley defense Friday night.
The Tri-Valley offense, meanwhile, scored by every means possible with touchdowns on the ground and through the air, along with a field goal, as the top-ranked and reigning Class 2A state champions rolled to a 45-0 Heart of Illinois Conference Large Division homecoming victory over EPG at Downs.
"Their kids play hard, they play tough and they pretty much took it to us after the first quarter," said EPG coach Stephen Rigsby, who saw his Titans fall to 4-2 overall and 1-2 in league play.
Tri-Valley became playoff eligible by improving to 6-0 overall and 3-0 in conference play after holding EPG to 97 yards of total offense while piling up 434 yards of its own.
"I feel like our offense is clicking right now," said Tri-Valley coach Josh Roop.
Aided by four long touchdown runs, the Vikings were able to amass 335 yards on the ground against what Roop believes is a pretty stout EPG defense.
"(EPG) plugged some things up pretty well and I was pretty impressed with the way they played defensively," Roop said. "They gave us some fits, but we were able to pop some big runs."
The first of the big runs came at the 7:41 mark of the first quarter as Tri-Valley's Casey Hamilton scored from 35 yards out to put the Vikings on the board.
Evan Smith, who rushed for 173 yards on 16 carries, added TD runs of 57 and 38 yards in the second period to give the Vikings a 21-0 halftime lead.
Zach Woodring joined the big-play parade by adding a 36-yard touchdown run late in the game to close out the scoring.
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"They've got a lot of athletes on the field is what it boils down to," Rigsby said. "I thought our kids played as hard as they possibly could. I don't ever question our effort or toughness. We just got out-athleted tonight."
EPG was able to move the ball early in the game, but failed to sustain its drives.
With Tri-Valley defenders Thomas Dolan (six tackles), Cam Elam (five tackles), Harley Justus (five tackles) and Hunter Gawlick (four tackles) leading the charge, the Vikings more times than not were able to set back the Titans early in each series.
"We're kind of four yards and a cloud of dust team, so if we can't get three and four yards each play it sets us back," Rigsby said. "We struggle on third and long. It's not our forte."
EPG had a splendid opportunity late in the first half when the Titans recovered a Tri-Valley fumble of a punt. They came up empty after a short run and three incomplete passes.
Tri-Valley quarterback Aaron Kussmann completed four of his eight passing attempts for 99 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown strike to Jake Steiner with 1:17 remaining in the third period.
Earlier in the quarter, Kussmann followed fullback Jared Nelson into the end zone on a 2-yard touchdown run to cap a 63-yard 13-play drive to open the second half.
"Jake did a good job catching the ball on that one long throw and Aaron Kussmann's just playing good football right now," Roop said.
Tri-Valley kicker Jake Ward was perfect on his extra point attempts and added a 36 yard field goal in fourth quarter.