COAL CITY — Coal City football coach Dan Hutchings is only in his second year as a head coach, but he seems to have a winning formula figured out.
"If you don't allow the other team to score, all you have to do is score once," Hutchings said after his Coalers shut out Wheaton Academy, 37-0, Friday night in the first round of the Class 4A playoff. It was the sixth shutout of the season for the Coalers (9-1).
With the Coal City front seven swarming to the ball on every running play and the secondary blanketing Wheaton Academy receivers on pass plays, the Warriors found precious little room to move.
Meanwhile, the Coal City offense used a balanced mix of run and pass to put the game away.
After a scoreless first quarter, Coal City got on the board in the second on an eight-yard touchdown run by Cole Garcia. Connor Skubic added the two-point conversion run and the Coalers owned an 8-0 lead with 7:35 to play until halftime.
On the ensuing drive, Wheaton Academy made its deepest trip into Coal City territory, as quarterback Ben Thorson completed 4 of 5 passes for 35 yards, including a 15-yard completion to Justin Hocker on 3rd and 12. The drive stalled at the Coal City 8, and a 25-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right.
Coal City took over at its own 20 with 1:07 to play in the first half, and Skubic broke free on a 45-yard gain on the first play to put the Coalers at the Wheaton Academy 35. After quarterback Payton Hutchings scrambled for a first down, Coal City faced 4th and 11 from the Wheaton Academy 25. Hutchings lofted a pass toward the end zone, and Gio Ferrara made a diving catch for a touchdown Skubic again ran in the two-point conversion and Coal City led 16-0 heading into halftime.
"I beat my guy off the line," Ferrara said. "He was holding me, but Payton threw a great pass. We work on that play a lot, so we have it down pretty good. I don't always have to dive for it, though."
The Coalers received the second-half kickoff and ate up time with a punishing ground attack. Daniel Jezik, who did not have a rushing attempt in the first half, carried eight times on the drive, including a 13-yard romp into the end zone. His extra-point kick gave Coal City a 23-0 lead with 5:47 left in the third. A big play in the drive was a 16-yard pass from Payton Hutchings to Asa Cooper on 4th and 16 that resulted in a first down at the Warriors' 18.
"We wanted to take the second-half kickoff and come down and score," Dan Hutchings said. "We talked about that at halftime. Daniel Jezik did a great job coming in and running when Connor tweaked his ankle."
Then, the Coal City defense took over.
With Thorson on the sideline with an injury, Jezik intercepted Shane Baumgarten's pass and returned it to the Wheaton Academy 11. After a two-yard run by Skubic, Hutchings rolled right, then threw back to his left to a wide-open Ferrara in the end zone for a 30-0 Coal City lead.
"Payton started coming back across the field, and I went where he was going," Ferrara said. "He threw it right to me."
Hutchings completed 8 of 12 passes for 118 yards, while Ferrara had five catches for 78 yards. Skubic finished with 102 rushing yards on 13 carries, while Jezik had eight carries for 49 yards.
Wheaton Academy fumbled on its first play after the kickoff, and Garcia recovered for Coal City. On 3rd and 6, Skubic broke through the middle of the defense and kept his balance after being hit at the 5 to go into the end zone to cap the night's scoring.
"It felt great to score that touchdown," Skubic said. "I missed about half the season with my ankle, so I really wanted to get into the end zone.
"It's awesome how this team works together. All that work we put in over the summer and in the weight room is paying off."
Thorson completed 8 of 13 passes for 57 yards for Wheaton Academy and also led the team with 32 rushing yards on nine carries. Hocker caught three passes for 28 yards.