By ANDRES MARTINEZ
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
CARTHAGE, Ill. –– Last season, Illini West had a problem keeping Pittsfield off the board and had problems with penalties.
Friday night, the Chargers were able to correct one of the two issues, and kept penalties to a minimum, at least for a half.
The Chargers had six penalties for 50 yards, with five of them coming in the first half, in a 38-12 victory over the Saukees.
"I was very happy about our penalties in the first half. Last year that really plaqued us," first-year Illini West head coach Lyle Klein said. "I also think they were getting tired. Focus goes away when guys are tired."
The Saukees got on the board first, scoring on a two-yard run by senior Isaac Whitaker with 7:54 to play in the first quarter.
Illini West marched down the field, capped by a 45-yard run by quarterback Braden Bennett. The Chargers had a 4th and 5 opportunity, deep inside Saukee territory, but Bennett had his pass intercepted by Wayde Smith.
The Chargers' defense stepped up, forcing a fumble two plays later that was recovered by senior Braxton Squier inside Pittsfield territory. Senior Brayden Carroll scored on a six yard run a few players later.
Carroll sparked once again, returning a punt 49 yards for a touchdown, after the Chargers' defense forced a three-and-out.
The Chargers' defense forced another three-and-out, and gave the Chargers' the ball back on their own 30-yard line.
Austin Curfman set the Chargers up, breaking a 34-yard run. That set up junior quarterback Braden Bennett, who scored on a 22-yard run, after breaking a few tackles in the backfield. Bennett added the 2-point conversion on a keeper, to give the Chargers a 24-6 lead.
"My job is just to find the open space," Bennett, who finished with 71 yards and the touchdown run, said. "Wherever the linemen put me, I just follow them."
Pittsfield was quick to respond, and on the next play Smith found tight-end Eli Petty on a 25-yard touchdown pass, to cut the Chargers' lead in half, after a failed 2-point conversion attempt.
"In the past, Pittsfield has always rolled up a bunch of points on us and they just keep coming at you," Klein said.
Illini West came out stronger in the second half, and Leighton Johnson had a 62-yard touchdown on the second play in the half, and took a 32-12 lead after Carroll added a two-point conversion.
"I had good blocks, (they) were just running off their tails," said Johnson who finished with 123 yards rushing and a touchdown.
Illini West forced yet another three-and-out, and returned the punt to Pittsfield's 12 yard line. The Saukees forced them to a fourth-and-long, but Bennett found senior Gabe Thompson on a 15-yard touchdown pass, his only completion of the night.
The Chargers defence once again stepped up, when senior Bryor Grotts intercepted Smith. On the next play, Johnson once again broke of a big run, taking the ball for a 63-yard run, but the Chargers discipline bit them, with an illegal block in the back bringing the ball back to the 25 yard line.
"Guys were getting anxious," Johnson said. "It's something we need to work on."