By FRANK CASH
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
MENDON, Ill. -- As far as Kevin Krietemeyer was concerned, there weren't enough game balls for him to hand out Friday night.
That's how valuable the defensive effort was for the Unity-Payson football team in its 14-12 victory over Pleasant Hill.
"If I had 11 game balls, I'd give one to every defensive starter," said Krietemeyer, the Mustangs' first-year coach. "And I'd give two apiece to the defensive linemen. The defense passed tonight with flying colors."
Despite giving up nearly 75 pounds per man along the line, the Mustangs stopped the Wolves on a pair of crucial two-point conversion runs during the fourth quarter. Both times, the Mustangs' Scott Lentz and Gage Klitz stepped in to stop Wolves quarterback Kyle Moore on sneak attempts.
"Those were incredible plays," Unity senior tackle Lane Davis said. "Both times our backs were against the wall, and the left side of the line stepped it up. It was really big."
It kept the Mustangs' playoff chances alive.
Unity started the season 0-4, but now rides a four-game winning streak into next Friday's game at North Greene. If the Mustangs win, they qualify for postseason consideration.
Unity is expected to have earned enough playoff points to grab a playoff bid.
Friday night, the Mustangs took a 14-6 lead when Alex Blickhan returned a kickoff 74 yards for a touchdown with 9 minutes, 30 seconds left in the game. That followed a 1-yard touchdown sneak by Moore to put the Wolves (4-4) on the scoreboard.
"(Blickhan's return) was a big momentum booster," said Davis, who recovered two fumbles in the first half. "It kept our confidence up."
Two series later, Pleasant Hill reeled off an eight-play, 52-yard drive which resulted in Moore's 33-yard touchdown pass to Corby Edwards with 58.6 seconds left. The catch was made on the right side of the ball before Edwards spun to avoid his defender and sprint the remaining 15 yards to the end zone.
A few seconds later, Lentz and Klitz made their second conversion stop of the night.
Although he didn't have much of a choice after the second touchdown, Pleasant Hill coach Mike Giles never thought about kicking an extra point.
"We haven't done much of that this season," said Giles, whose team hosts Brown County next Friday and needs to win to qualify for playoff considersation. "We had a couple of breakdowns on those plays which really hurt us. It's tough because I thought we started to gel in the second half and we had some pretty good possessions."
With a steady rain during the first half, both teams had trouble holding on to the football and generating offense. Unity had 47 yards before halftime and Pleasant Hill had 36. The Wolves fumbled the ball five times in the first half, losing two.
While Pleasant Hill finished with 239 yards, the Mustangs managed only 67.
"That's crazy," Krietemeyer said. "That makes what our defense did even more spectacular."
Unity's players didn't care who carried them to the victory, as long as they stayed in playoff contention.
"It was frustrating on offense, but our defense played so great, it didn't really matter," Blickhan said. "It was one of those games where everyone's contribution counted."