By Tom Schultz
For the Herald
FULTON, Ill. —
The visiting Amboy Clippers were putting everything they had into one final drive against the Fulton Steamers, who only minutes before had gone up 12-6.
The defense was too much to handle, as it had been for both teams the entire night, and Amboy couldn’t find its rhythm or its footing in those final moments as the Steamers had all of the momentum in a game that did not matter to the standings. The only thing riding on this alumni game between the two teams was bragging rights for the next year.
The idea hatched out of comments in passing between friends on which team would beat which.
“People from all the different towns were having arguments on who was better, which team was better, so one guy went home and set it up said he wanted to see which team is better," Matt Kuebel, a 1998 Fulton graduate, explained. "We had a meeting at Angelo’s in Sterling, and from there on we just kind of got organized.”
From there it took off for the Kuebel brothers, who ended up organizing the game in Fulton between players from both the Steamers and Clippers past that saw a lot of old friends back together on the field and family members who never had the chance to play with each other given the opportunity to share the field with their brothers and cousins and even a father/son duo.
“We had a guy, Dave Hamstra, who played with his son, Andy Hamstra, so they were 22-some years apart," Matt Kuebel said. "That’s pretty amazing when you’ve passed down generations like that. It's always something you can look back on and appreciate the older you get.”
Expectations for the game were quickly squelched by both team’s defenses, which came out strong and impenetrable for the first quarter and most of the second.
“The game was a lot rougher than we expected.” Aaron Kuebel (1997) said.
His brother, Matt added: “When we play Amboy, it’s always hard-pressed, hard-nosed, so we knew they were going to come at us strong.
“Our benefit was our defensive line. We were 12-men deep on the defensive line. We knew that we could kind of wear them down, and it's kind of what we did. A hard-fought defensive game.”
More cheers could be heard around the stadium for the defensive stops in the first quarter than for any of the offensive plays. Neither team could add up any yards as they were both stuck between 35-yard lines in the middle of the field.
The final possession of the half finally resulted in a score. The Steamers began to build some momentum following a four-and-out series from the Clippers that gave them the ball inside the 50-yard line. A 25-yard connection from quarterback Wyatt Heyvert to Fulton’s defensive MVP of the game, Larry Peterson, came up just short of the end zone, but they had just the play and the player to push the ball across the goal line. With 8.9 seconds left, a handoff to big Tukes Ayangbile gave the Steamers the 2 yards they needed to break the scoreless tie.
Halftime was a welcome relief for the players as they got a chance to rest. No longer high-schoolers, these men needed a few minutes more to catch their breath, but smiles were plentiful and wide as each one of them was relishing the chance to get back out on the field.
“It’s a little tougher, a little harder on the body than you remember,” Matt Kuebel said.
His brother Aaron chimed in, “It drains you quick, but it was worth it.”
Fulton's Jerritt Hartman (2009) added: “It was tough, but we did it. Everybody was winded.” And without hesitation he said, “It was fun, it was amazing, I’ll do it again next year for sure.”
David Hamstra, a 1980 Fulton graduate, was the oldest player on the field for either team and had some key tackles for the Steamers in the first half that helped keep the Clippers scoreless, but the thing he will remember most about the alumni game was the chance to suit up with his son Andy, an accomplishment few men, father or son, can say they have achieved. The consensus among all of the players was that the biggest highlight of the night was playing with family members.
“Got to play with my brothers, got to play with some really good friends; it was the chance of a lifetime,” Matt Kuebel said.
Hartman said: “It was amazing. To play with my brother (Matt Hartman) — I was a senior when he was a freshman — so to really play with him, watch him, to be on the sidelines for him, that was awesome.”
Ben Kuebel (2006) said: “It was fantastic. My brothers and I got the chance to play at the same time. It was one of those golden opportunities.”
The third quarter saw both teams run down the clock on their possessions, and each forced a turnover. Fulton’s Peterson snagged an interception at the Steamers' 5-yard line to put an end to Amboy’s first real threat offensively of the night. A Steamers fumble near midfield gave the ball right back, but Amboy was unable to capitalize.
The Clippers waited until the final seconds of the third quarter to get on the board. A 76-yard pass from the strong-armed Luke Payne to his receiver put Amboy at the Fulton 5-yard line with only seconds to go before the end of the quarter. Payne took the snap and looked for his options, but the only one available to him was to run it in himself from 5 yards out. The game was tied heading into the fourth quarter, 6-6.
The dogfight continued through the first 10 minutes of the fourth quarter as every player on the field was grinding out the plays despite what their bodies were telling them.
“It was a battle of the defensive lines. The defensive lines blew each other up,” Aaron Kuebel said.
Fulton had put together two first downs on its first drive of the final quarter but couldn’t score, turning the ball over on downs.
That turned out to work in the Steamers' favor as the Clippers got the ball in their territory and couldn’t move it forward, only back. The Steamers defense didn’t allow Amboy any space, putting pressure on the backfield quickly and pushing the Clippers all the way back to their own 5-yard line.
The Clippers chose to punt on fourth-and-long, but the ball was partially blocked and gave the Steamers great field position at the Amboy 21-yard line. With 1:29 left in the game, all it took was a 21-yard pass from Wyatt Heyvert into the front left corner of the end zone and the Steamers had the touchdown and the lead 12-6.
“We weren’t done, so we kept pushing, pushing and then finally we got it, teamwork.” Hartman said.
Fulton would hold onto the lead with its punishing defense squashing Amboy’s hopes in the final minute. An interception by Joe Wiersema was called off on a penalty by the Steamers. The Clippers were working from the shotgun and heaving up the passes to control the clock and get them down the field. They moved from their own 5 to the Steamers' 44-yard line, but two sacks from the combined efforts of Ayangbile, Taylor Jensen and Matt Hartman forced a last-second Hail Mary that was batted away by the Fulton secondary to seal the win.
After the final whistle, players from both teams were walking gingerly but taking pleasure in the game they just played and all of the fun they had just had, forming a circle at midfield where handshakes and stories were shared along with plans for next year’s addition of the alumni game between the Fulton Steamers and Amboy Clippers.
Aaron Kuebel drove home that idea by saying: “It was rough. It was fun. I’d do it again in a heartbeat, but I’m going to be sore in the morning.”
As he walked off to enjoy his victory, Hartman stated it simply: “We’re all exhausted.”
FULTON 12, AMBOY 6
Fulton 0 6 0 6 — 12
Amboy 0 0 6 0 — 6
F — Ayangbile 1 run (run failed), :08.9
A — Payne 5 run (pass failed), :00.0
F — Heyvert 21-yard pass (PAT failed), 1:29