Facing their toughest challenge yet in their final regular season game, Justin Townsend’s Fairfield Mules finished off their third straight undefeated regular season with a 35-13 win at the rival Eldorado Eagles.
The final score looks like a blowout, but the Eagles led early and ran the ball right at the Mule defense with success, but a fumble, a short punt and fourth down conversion rate proved costly for the Eagles. They were 0-for-3 on fourth down attempts, after going 5-of-9 on third down. The Mules were stellar in converting, going 6-of-8 on third down and 2-for-2 on fourth on the other two. They never punted in the game.
That allowed them to move the ball consistently, even if not explosively. They had a touchdown in each of the first three quarters and then scored twice in the fourth to put the game away.
The Eagles, who came in at 5-3, took the opening kickoff and marched the ball down the field, overpowering the Mules up front and utilizing their trio of physical backs—Jacob Etienne, Aidan Kuhn and Lydayyea Shewmaker. Those three combined for 12 straight runs and 62 yards, with Etienne carrying the final three and punching in a one-yard touchdown.
Fairfield followed with an eerily similar drive on their first possession, riding their backfield trio of Wyatt Gilbert, Cade Carter and Kaleb Wells, That trio combined to cover 69 yards in 12 plays as well, with one play in the air via a screen pass to Wells. Wells got the score as well, from two yards out. Both teams missed the extra point attempts following their scores, leaving them tied at six through one quarter.
The similarities continued for the two rivals on their second possessions. Eldorado turned the ball over with a fumble when two backs collided during the handoff and Mule lineman Ike Downen came away with the loose ball. Fairfield returned the favor, however, with Landon Zurliene getting picked off by Ezra Burtis.
The Eagles were called for a block-in-the-back on the return and started their drive at their own five. They got to just the 20 before having to punt the ball away, and Kuhn’s kick was good for just 19 yards.
Fairfield took advantage by scoring seven runs later, with Gilbert getting the touchdown run from 14 yards out on a counter run.
Because of both teams keeping the clock moving with ball control, the Eagles had just one more possession in the first half, and came up short despite driving to the Mules 37 before turning the ball over with an incomplete pass on fourth-and-10.
The Mules got the ball to start second half and extended their lead to two scores by running the ball 11 straight times. They converted a fourth-and-1 near midfield along the way, got a 22-yard scamper from Gilbert one play before a 1-yard score by Gilbert. Carter punched in the two-pointer for a 22-6 lead.
Eldorado once again moved the ball on the Mules, starting on their own 20 after a touchback kickoff by Fairfield junior Colin Massie. The Eagles quickly moved into Mule territory, starting the drive with a 21-yard romp by Kuhn and a 19-yard sprint by Shewmaker. They got into the the red zone and had first-and-10 from the Mule 18. Fairfield’s defense came up with a goal line stand, however, and middle linebacker Cameron Gardner stopped Shewmaker on a fourth-and-1 run that was measured inches shy.
That proved to be the defensive drive of the game for the Mules, and the offense came up with a big drive of their own. They ran the ball six straight times to run out the third quarter.
On the first play of the fourth, the Mules were called for a holding penalty to put the offense in a hole. They turned to the passing game, and Zurliene delivered darts. He hit Carter for a 10-yard completion, then tight end Luke Dagg for a 36-yard completion on third-and-13. That completion came after the snap the long snap was bobbled.
The Mules completed two more passes on the drive, to Wells and Gilbert, before a one-yard touchdown run by Wells for a 28-6 lead.
With their back against the wall late in the game, Eldorado turned the ball over on downs once again with Wells stopping Whitlock on a fourth-and-three run.
Fairfield turned back to the ground game and marched 43 yards with six runs and a two-yard run by Carter for a 35-6 lead.
Eldorado’s second score came with a minute to go. Shewmaker had a 46-yard run on the drive and Kuhn scored from one yard out.
Fairfield outgained Eldorado, 339-246. The biggest difference came in the air, with the Mules throwing for 79 yards, while the Eagles had zero.
Gilbert finished with 92 rushing yards and 17 receiving yards, scoring twice. Wells ran for 77, caught two passes for 16 yards and he scored twice as well. Carter finished with 76 rushing yards and one score to complete the balanced attack for the starting trio.
Gilbert also led the defense in tackles with seven solos and an assist. Downen finished with six solos and two assists.
The win was the 29th straight BDC win for the Mules, extending their conference win. It also capped off their fourth straight conference championship season, the last three undefeated. For these seniors, it was their 28th varsity victory, breaking the school record set by last year’s seniors.
Fairfield found out their playoff opponent Saturday evening, drawing Alton Marquette in the first round. They will play at the Train Yard Saturday at 2 p.m. The Explorers won the Prairie State Conference title, going 5-0 in league play. They lost all four of their nonconference games, to Breese Mater Dei, Bethalto Civic Memorial, Mt. Carmel and Quincy Notre Dame.
Final BDC Standings
- Does not include Sesser’s Saturday win over Vienna.