NORMAL — By forcing its opponent to think about positioning defenders outside of the box, the Normal Community High School football team couldn’t be cornered Friday.
The Ironmen proved they can pass — something they didn’t do last season — while downing Champaign Central, 35-22, in a Big 12 Conference season opener.
Kyle Rutledge caught four passes for 116 yards and two touchdowns as Brent Turner completed all seven of his passes for 133 yards.
“We haven’t seen those numbers in a while,” said NCHS coach Wes Temples. “I think that’s more yards than we had all of last year.”
“Our linemen protected well,” said Turner, whose school topped the Maroons for the ninth consecutive year. “Kyle Rutledge makes the plays happen.”
The Ironmen’s defense-stretching passing attack made room for Keegan McIntosh to rush nine times for 108 yards and three 1-yard touchdowns.
“Keegan runs really hard,” Turner said. “It’s hard to tackle him. I hope he keeps bringing that.”
Temples didn’t know what kind of play-calling Champaign’s first-year coach, Ira Jefferson, would bring to town.
“You have no idea what they are going to do,” Temples said.
One thing the Maroons didn’t do was give up after falling behind 35-8. They scored 14 points the final 7:23.
“I’m not sure it was as close as the scoreboard said it ended, but I thought our kids did a good job,” said Temples, who wasn’t thrilled about losing three fumbles. “We’ve got to take care of the football a little better.”
On the plus side, NCHS forced three turnovers as Patrick Gregory recovered a fumble while Brad Blumenshine and Nick Birlingmair intercepted passes.
NCHS scored 21 points off turnovers.
“We just killed ourselves,” said Jefferson, who was an assistant coach last year under David Jacobs. “We’re not good enough to spot a team like this 21 and try to come back.”
Champaign got the first break, recovering an NCHS fumble on the game’s fourth play. The Ironmen were more assertive on their second possession as McIntosh contributed runs of 31 and 22 yards to a 77-yard drive that ended with his 1-yard score.
Erstwhile NCHS soccer player Spencer Smith, who wowed the crowd with long kickoffs, converted all five of his extra-point tries.
After a Champaign fumble, NCHS scored 1:31 later on a 10-yard pass to Rutledge. He soon made it 21-0 with a 59-yard TD reception.
“I know he and Brent are great friends so that adds to the chemistry a little bit,” Cupples said. “He’s a player who is going to have to play like that for us this year.”