FOOTBALL: Toppers splinter Sycamores, 59-14

Danny Schoenbaechler

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – It didn’t matter who was running. The holes were going to be big, and the running back was going to enjoy the consistently spacious lanes.

Using an unstoppable running game, No. 8 Western crushed Indiana State 59-14 Saturday.

It was a day where the sun never snuck through the heavy gray clouds and the Sycamore defense rarely snuck through the Hilltoppers’ monstrous offensive line.

Sophomore running back Lerron Moore suffered from an injured quadriceps muscle that tightened up early in Saturday’s contest.

After only 12 carries, Western coach David Elson had no qualms about putting Moore on the shelf for the rest of the game.

He already had 148 rushing yards and a touchdown, and Western led 21-0.

“The strength of our offense is our offensive line,” Elson said. “The real credit goes to those guys.”

Next came junior Ronnie Lilly. He amassed 85 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries by halftime. Quarterback Justin Haddix had kept the ball seven times for 26 yards and a trio of touchdowns.

By the time Indiana State’s halftime Homecoming festivities rolled onto the field, it was 42-0 and the Toppers had 369 total yards, 259 on the ground.

Each of Western’s six first-half possessions culminated in the end zone.

“There were huge holes,” Moore said. “My quad started tightening up, but I wanted to go back out there anyway.”

With Moore out, the Toppers (6-2, 3-1 Gateway Conference) tossed freshman Tony West on the field as the second-half feature back, and he surpassed everybody by gaining 149 yards and a score.

At 5-feet-9-inches, West used his explosive quickness to vault into the secondary for gains of 43 and 45 yards, with the second gain ending in the end zone.

Western imposed its power running game on the Sycamores, but it was the Topper defense that had allowed an average of nearly 230 rushing yards the past two weeks.

So it was determined to make this one different.

“We really wanted to come out and straight dominate,” junior linebacker Charles Thompson said.

Thompson missed the past two games with an injured knee, but returned with seven tackles.

“In the first series I did feel a little pain,” he said. “I just felt like my head wasn’t there at first.”

Sophomore linebacker Brandon Smith helped hold Indiana State to 101 rushing yards with three sacks and six tackles.

“Everybody was clicking today, and everybody came out and left everything on the field,” Smith said. “We were frustrated with the past couple weeks.”

The biggest problem Western struggled with was holding onto the pigskin.

While the sky was hazy, it dropped rain in minds more than it did on their shoulders.

The Toppers had six fumbles, losing two.

“We’ve got to look at that on film,” Elson said.

The Toppers have just three games left, but there shouldn’t be any more easy victories.

The next two opponents, Southern Illinois and Northern Iowa are tied for the Gateway lead. And perennial power Youngstown State (5-4, 2-2 GFC) awaits Western in its final regular season game.

“I definitely think these next three weeks will be our biggest,” Smith said.

Winning the last three games would ensure Western the conference title, which includes an automatic bid to the I-AA tournament.

“It’s hard to win a game (this easily) in the Gateway,” Moore said. “If we go out and win the rest of these games, we will be all right.”

Reach Danny Schoenbaechler at [email protected]