By Tom Schultz
For the Herald
MANLIUS, Ill. — A win streak extended to four, meaning a winning record to end the regular season and playoff eligibility for the Fulton Steamers. The team hadn’t been in this situation since 2007.
With a 55-14 win over the Bureau Valley Storm under their belts notching, the Steamers improved to 5-4 on strong defense and versatile offense. The offense has been forced into a corner this season beginning with week two on the road at Kewanee when quarterback Ethan Jones injured his ankle. The Steamers have since gained traction when the calendar changed to October.
Since then the Steamers have won by 51, 24, and 41 points to end their regular season. The balanced offense came together after years of work and preparation and new weapons have come into the fold.
“First and foremost Austin Regenwether is our lead dog," Fulton coach Pat Lower said. “Every team knows it, so we have to have that complimentary back and we talked way back last spring to Devin Kuehl about ‘You’re the other back now. You’re going to have to do it and we know you can do it.’ And he’s really taken a hold of that and done an outstanding job of being that second threat for us.”
Fulton began slow and steady in the first quarter putting up 7 points on a 23-yard carry from Austin Regenwether. That was the first of four touchdowns on the night for him.
“Regenwether was running hard and I was like ‘I want to get some too, just so we’re a multi-drill team, two threats,” Kuehl said.
In the second quarter, Fulton started to pick up steam scoring three times. Kuehl maneuvered his way around the defense and into the end zone from 48 yards out. Regenwether scored two more touchdowns in the quarter including one with 1:12 left before halftime to keep the momentum in favor of the Steamers.
Things started really moving forward for the Steamers in the third quarter. On the opening kickoff of the half, Jason Osbourne returned the ball 84 yards into the end zone setting the tone for the rest of the game that the Steamers wouldn’t let up.
“Our kids came out in that second half, and we talked about not taking your foot off the pedal because this Bureau Valley team scores a lot of points, and they’re an explosive team,” Lower said. “We talked about that at half time. You can’t let up for a second or they’re going to get a score.”
Kody Crosthwaite went with the onside kick following the kickoff return and Fulton was able to recover it at midfield, turning it into Regenwether’s fourth touchdown of the night.
“We came out with great enthusiasm,” Regenwether said. “Our energy level all game was perfect, it was high. It felt like we had more energy than they did. We did have more at stake, so that third quarter helped us out a lot.”
Bureau Valley was able to retain the ball during the next kickoff but that was it. On the next play the Storm fumbled the ball, again near midfield and the Steamers took over. Kuehl got the handoff from quarterback Ethan Jones and after a good block in the middle and a quick cut to the right he was gone, 34 yards into the end zone.
”We had a couple breaks, a couple balls bounce our way there in that 3rd quarter and just really took control of the game,” Lower said.
At that point the Steamers were up 49-7 over the Storm and had forced three turnovers. On Bureau Valley’s next possession of the quarter, the Storm coughed up the ball again, this time at their own 40-yard line.
The Steamers handed the ball of to Kuehl one more time and again he cut up the defense and ate up the 10 yards between him and the end zone.
The 5-4 record the Steamers achieved makes them eligible for the playoffs but they have done all that they can for now. Their future now rests with other results in the state of Illinois to determine if they are one of the 5-4 teams that makes it in.
“The nice thing is we’ve got that 5-4 record so we are eligible,” Lower said. “And we just hope and pray that a lot of 4-4 teams around the state lose tonight, and hopefully tomorrow we have good news.”
Regenwether added: “Now all we can do is hope.”
FULTON 55, BUREAU VALLEY 14
Bureau Valley 0 7 0 7 — 14
Fulton 7 21 27 0 — 55
F — Regenwether 23 run (Velasco kick), 7:39
F — Kuehl 48 run (Velasco kick), 10:31
BV — Smith 16 pass from Neuhalfen (Neuhalfen kick), 8:40
F — Regenwether 29 run (Velasco kick), 5:42
F — Regenwether 4 run (Velasco kick), 1:12
F — Osbourne kickoff return (kick failed), 12:00
F — Regenwether 15 run (Velasco kick), 8:57
F — Kuehl 34 run (Velasco kick), 7:20
F — Kuehl 10 run (Velasco kick), 3:12
BV — Johnston 28 run (Johnston kick), 11:50
RUSHING — Fulton, Regenwether 25-185, Kuehl 10-143, Jones 7-76, Smith 3-8, Sweenie 3-6; Bureau Valley, Neuhalfen 10-14, Johnston 13-97, Smith 2-11, Lootens 5-14, Schoff 2-29, Witting 1-4.
PASSING — Fulton, Jones 2-3-0-38; Bureau Valley, Neuhalfen, 4-6-1-60.
RECEIVING — Fulton, Osbourne 1-11, Holesinger 1-27; Bureau Valley, Smith 3-35, Balensiefen 1-25.