CHAMPAIGN - Just as one or two swings of the bat can change a baseball game, a handful of carries by Travis Mullen can change a football game for Normal Community High School, which downed Champaign Central, 41-13, Friday night.
"He's a home-run threat every time he touches the ball," said NCHS coach Wes Temples, whose team heads into the playoffs with a 7-2 record overall and in the Big 12 Conference.
Mullen, who was nursing a back injury, needed just eight carries to gain 190 yards and score three touchdowns. He averaged 46 yards on three first-half carries, all in the first quarter before sitting out the second period.
"This week I took a helmet to the back," Mullen said. "Two days out of the week it was pretty painful and it was starting to tighten up because it was cold outside. We went into the locker room and I got it warmed up. I had to keep it going."
Mullen scored from 61 yards on the Ironmen's first play from scrimmage by jetting to the right sideline and on to pay dirt. He set up his second score, a 4-yarder, with a 75-yard dash down the left sideline.
"I used my speed to get around (the end)," he said. "It was pretty lovely. I think this game really helped us out and prepared us for the playoffs."
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NCHS took a 21-13 lead into the third quarter. Mullen padded that lead with a 39-yard run on the second play.
"Whatever he had to do to fix it (his back), he fixed it, I guess," Temples said. "He came back out and I thought he ran hard. Travis has meant so much to this program. He's been a four-year varsity player."
Champaign star Denzel Stewart, who broke six tackles on a 45-yard first-half scoring run, finished with 115 yards on 20 carries.
"He's a good back," Temples said. "I felt in the first half we made mistakes that gave him extra opportunities.
"That one run was an impressive run. We were hoping to keep him under 100. He earned every one of those yards. Our kids are probably sick of hearing about him because that's all they heard about this week in practice. I felt like they did a pretty good job against him."
NCHS may have earned a home playoff game with the win.
"The only way we have a possibility (for a home game) is by winning tonight," Temples said. "The kids took care of what they had to."
NCHS also got a 9-yard TD run from Jared Cross, who finished with 37 yards, and a 5-yard score from Keegan McIntosh. The scoring ended on 6-yard Tre Jones to Grant Hanley pass.
The NCHS defense held Champaign to 220 total yards, 112 less than the Ironmen. Dexter Celestin of NCHS intercepted a pass. Chase Robbins also intercepted a Champaign conversion pass.
Mullen impressed Champaign coach David Jacobs.
"He's got some people up front that help him quite a bit," said Jacobs, whose team fell to 4-5 overall and in the league. "He's a great player."