EFFINGHAM — Fireworks exploded in the sky above the Effingham High School football field before Friday night’s homecoming game between the Hearts and the Paris Tigers.
After the pregame festivies finished, the Hearts kept the fireworks coming on the field, scoring a touchdown on their opening drive and cruising to a 25-6 victory.
Last week, the Hearts didn’t complete a pass until more than halfway through the fourth quarter. This week, quarterback Nathan Vail wasted no time getting the passing game going, connecting with Caydin Vaughn for a 14-yard gain on Effingham’s first play from scrimmage.
Later during that possession, Logan Howell barrelled his way into the end zone from 10 yards out to give the Hearts a 6-0 lead.
Vail would finish the game with 99 passing yards, completing eight of his 19 attempts and throwing two touchdown passes. He also added 69 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown.
“It was big to get the opening kickoff and drive right down the field and score,” Effingham coach Mike McDonald said.
McDonald, who had been stressing the importance of getting off to fast starts and limiting penalties, was pleased with his team’s effort in those departments on Friday night.
Though the Hearts still committed seven penalties for 63 yards, they weren’t the sort of drive-killing penalties that had plagued them in previous weeks.
Another goal McDonald set for his team was that he wanted the Hearts to break more tackles, something they accomplished in Friday’s win.
“One of our goals was to break 10 or more tackles,” he said. “I think we did that.”
McDonald also complimented his offensive line for having its best game of the year, opening plenty of running lanes for Vaughn, Howell and the rest of the Effingham backfield.
“All those guys did a great job moving the football and our backs did a good job of finding the holes,” he said.
Defensively, the Hearts put out a strong effort as well, forcing six turnovers by the Tigers.
“Defensively, we played our best game of the year,” McDonald said. “Even better than last week.”
Dirk Levitt snagged two interceptions, Marcus Robinson grabbed another pick and Cody Sennett intercepted a Riley Spencer pass on the last play of the game to seal the victory.
The defense held Paris to only 210 yards of total offense, and only allowed Spencer to complete four of his 18 passing attempts.
Stuart Arp ran 7 yards for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter for Paris, but the game was well in hand by that point.
Effingham improved to 2-4 on the season and 2-1 in the Apollo Conference. The Hearts will travel to Mattoon next week to take on the Green Wave.
Mattoon is 3-3 overall and is also 2-1 in the Apollo Conference after defeating Salem on Friday night, 41-14.