A comeback wasn't in the cards for Harrisburg Friday night as the Bulldogs tried to rally from a three-score deficit at halftime in a 23-13 loss to Fairfield in a rollercoaster game at Taylor Field.
The game may have paled in comparison to the up and down ride both teams had this week when Harrisburg found out late Wednesday that it's game with Du Quoin was cancelled due to a positive corona case in the Indian program. Ironically,
Fairfield's game with Vienna-Goreville was also axed due to injuries in the Eagles' program.
With one day of preparation as the game came together late Wednesday evening, Fairfield head coach Justin Townsend put his teams undefeated record of 4-0 on the line as the Black Diamond Conference leader was looking to make a statement in the bigger Southern Illinois River-To-River Conference.
"You can see I'm a little emotional," Townsend said with his eyes still watering. "It's just been a rollercoaster, fighting every week to get football games for these kids and making sure we can play. To be able to come down here, you know, the Black Diamond gets a bad rep sometimes and we get an opportunity to come out and step up and play a really good Harrisburg team out of the River-to-River.
"We really played awesome in the first half and kind of held on in the second half," Townsend added. "That's exactly what Harrisburg did last week against Herrin so we knew it was coming. I'm just extremely proud of our kids and it's a huge win for our program. I know people are going to question that because we're state ranked and all that but down in Southern Illinois we don't get a lot of credit in our conference. We felt like this was an opportunity for us to come out and prove ourselves and our kids responded. I'm extremely happy."
Fairfield came out with a touchdown pass from Landon Zurliene to Camden Robbins from 34 yards out to grab a 6-0 lead.
In the second quarter, the Mules (5-0) got a pair of TD runs from Kaleb Wells from two yards and 28 yards out and Fairfield closed out the first half with a 38-yard field goal by Aaron Perez for a 23-0 lead.
Harrisburg (2-3) didn't really get things going until the fourth quarter when Ben Gulley hooked up with Jake Hefner for a nine-yard score and after a Ross Rider point after attempt, the Bulldogs trailed 23-7.
After a blocked punt by Harrisburg, the Bulldogs took over at the Fairfield 16-yard line and used three plays where Rider scored from three yards out, but were unable to capitalize on the two-point conversion.
The Bulldogs nearly recovered an on-side kick, but Fairfield recovered at the Harrisburg 40 and used the remaining 5:42 to run out the clock.
Harrisburg head coach Gabe Angelly highlighted the preparation by adding he was watching film until 1 a.m. Wednesday, but noting nothing about this week has been normal, but neither has this season.
"It's been crazy," Angelly said. "I told the kids that this is the craziest year for these seniors. They've had such a rollercoaster from last year to now. It's unprecedented to have a game canceled mid-week and then pick up a game on a Thursday or late Wednesday night and you have one day of prep and play a game. It's crazy that it happened that way.
"Our kids, man, they played so well in the second half. This is two weeks in a row that in the second half we've come out great, but they just stall early. I'm not sure how it's happening? I don't know what's going on with them but the team that plays in the second half is the team that we expect to see every week."
Fairfield racked up 289 yards of total offense, while Harrisburg had just 129.
The Mules rushed for 177 yards on 37 attempts, led by Wells' 15 carries for 95 yards and two TD's. Wells also led Fairfield in receptions with three grabs for 59 yards.
Harrisburg had 84 yards rushing on 36 attempts and 45 yards passing as Lester had 20 carries for 59 yards and Rider had three receptions for 28 yards.
Harrisburg will close out the season next week with a road game at West Frankfort, while Fairfield will host Eldorado in the season finale.
Spyder Dann covers prep and college sports for the Southern Illinois LOCAL Media Group. Follow him on Twitter: @spydieshooter.
Fairfield 06 17 00 00 -- 23
Harrisburg 00 00 00 13 -- 13
FHS -- Zurliene 32-yard pass to Robbins (Perez kick), 3:29
FHS -- Wells 2-yard run (Perez kick), 5:46
FHS -- Wells 28-yard run (Perez kick), 4:05
FHS -- Perez 38-yard Field Goal, 0:09
HBG -- Gulley 9-yard pass to Hefner (Rider kick), 8:37
HBG -- Rider 3-yard run (two-point conversion failed), 5:42
First Downs 18 11
Total Offense 289 129
Rushing Attempts-Yards 37-177 36-84
Passing: Completions-Attempts 6-17-1 5-13-1
Passing Yards 112 45
Fumbles-Lost 3-1 0-0
Penalties-Yards 4-30 3-25
PASSING: FHS-Zurliene 6-17-1 112 (TD). HBG-Gulley 5-13-1 45 (TD)
RUSHING: FHS-Wells 15-95 (2 TD), Massie 10-45, Pruitt 9-43, Zurliene 3-(-6). HBG-Lester 20-59, Rider 11-26 (TD), Whiting 1-2, Satterfield 2-2, Gulley 2-(-5).
RECEIVING: FHS-Wells 3-59, Robbins 3-53 (TD). HBG-Rider 3-28, Hefner 1-9 (TD), Boon 1-8.