In a rematch of a week nine clash last year to decide the conference championship, the Fairfield Mules opened up the season this year with a defensive display of power Friday night at the Train Yard, shutting out the Sesser-Valier-Waltonville Red Devils, 28-0.
The defense held Sesser to four total first downs, and just 85 yards of offense. That included an 0-for-12 showing in the passing game, as the Mules harassed senior Devil quarterback Peyton Bates early and often and kept the league’s top receiver last year, Tanner Eubanks, in check.
“I am proud of our defense. Week one, with no film and Sesser has some weapons, for our defense to play the way we did, pressure the quarterback the way we did, I can’t say enough about the job they did,” Mules coach Justin Townsend said.
Fairfield on the other hand, racked up 304 yards rushing, 350 total yards and dominated the time of possession by nearly a 3-to-1 margin.
Outside of two turnovers, they moved the ball consistently throughout the game, scoring once in each quarter.
Senior Wyatt Gilbert, the league’s top returning rusher, had 109 yards on the ground, while new fullback Kaleb Wells plowed for 91 yards on a team-high 19 carries. Cade Carter added 39 yards on the ground, and all three scored a touchdown.
“The defense set the tone early, and it really made my play calling offensively easier, because I knew our defense was stout tonight,” Townsend said.
Wells’ touchdown came at 6:47 in the first for the early lead, capping off a nine-play drive to open the game for the Mules, who marched 68 yards in that span.
The second score also capped off a long drive, as Fairfield ran off the last three minutes of the first quarter and the first five of the second, converting a pair of fourth downs on the drive.
Gilbert had a 23-yard scamper with a cut that left a defender falling backwards for the second score and a 16-0 lead.
Fairfield forced a three-and-out and then moved inside the red zone before turning the ball over on downs just before the half on the Sesser 17. With the Mules sitting back in a prevent defense, Sesser handed off three times for 34 yards, accounting for nearly half of their total on the night.
Carter’s rushing score came in the third quarter, on a three-yard plunge. That finished off a 17-play drive covering 72 yards. Fairfield again covered twice on fourth day, and finished 5-of-7 on fourth down conversion attempts. That helped them have to punt just once in the game.
For the fourth quarter score, Landon Zurliene went to the air and found receiver Kane Hixenbaugh on a 12-yard touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone. Hixenbaugh is a senior, well known in the conference for his hardcourt work, playing football for the first time. The drive was short by Mule standards in the game. They took over on the 25 after Konnor Dagg tipped a punt attempt. The Mules needed just five plays for the score.
Zurliene finished 7-of-16 passing with 46 yards, with one touchdown and one interception.
Jaden Lance rushed for 63 yards, accounting for nearly three-quarters of Sesser’s total yards.
Defensively, junior linebacker Garret Gunter, an honorable mention selection last year, led the Devils with 11.5 total tackles, including eight solos. Logan Kirk and Ben Breeze each had eight.
Fairfield did not have many tackle opportunities, with just 22 tackling plays against the Sesser offense. Cameron Gardner, Luke Dagg, Ryan Conrad and Jonathon Scott had three solos each to lead the Mules. Conrad had two tackles for loss from his nose guard spot.
Will Take It
“I will take 28-0 against Sesser any day. They will be a playoff football team,” Townsend explained. “This was a great way to start the year.”
The win was the 21st straight BDC win for the Mules as they chase a record owned by Hall of Fame coach Mike Rude and the Johnston City Indians. Rude was on the sideline for Sesser tonight, serving as co-head coach with John Shadowens this year.
Johnston City is up next for the Mules, as they travel to face the Indians in week two Friday.
“We are right where we want to be going into Johnston City next week,” Townsend noted. “They are very young. They have one of the best athletes in the conference in sophomore quarterback Austin Brown. They are trying to build their program back up, they have a great tradition.”
The Indians are coming off a 41-7 loss to Eldorado Friday.
Fairfield 28, SVW 0
Chester 18, Edwards Co. 13
Eldorado 41, Johnston City 7
Hamilton Co. 14, CZR 7
Carmi at Vienna, Saturday