MADISON – Even though his team is off to an 0-3 start, Metro-East Lutheran senior lineman Kyle Johnson is not panicking. He still has hope that the Knights can turn things around.
“If we come together, I think we can do it,” Johnson said.
The Knights remain winless after falling 32-6 to the South Fork Ponies on Saturday in their Prairie State Conference opener on Saturday at Madison High School. MELHS has been outscored 111-26 in its first three games.
The Knights played their first game of the season at Madison High on Saturday and their second overall since MELHS and Madison became a co-op football team last fall. They will play another game at Madison High on Oct. 8, when they take on the Marquette Catholic Explorers.
The Knights played their first two games at the MELHS campus. They lost to Bunker Hill and Lighthouse Christian Academy.
MELHS, which will head to Nokomis on Friday, is competing in its final year in the Prairie State Conference. Johnson, who has played with the MELHS program since his freshman year, said he’s optimistic that his team can turn in a strong showing in its final season of league play.
“If we fix our mistakes and the linemen set the blocks, I think we can compete very hard in the conference,” Johnson said. “It’s the first game in our conference, so we’re ready to go hit them.”
A year ago, MELHS played Bunker Hill at Madison High, making it the first time since 1992 a football game was played at Madison. The Knights lost 30-0 to the Minutemen.
On Saturday, the Knights made sure they weren’t going to get shut out at the Madison High football field again. MELHS scored its only points with 8 minutes, 38 seconds left in the second quarter, when junior Caleb Jones scored a 70-yard touchdown catch that cut the Ponies’ lead to 16-6.
The Knights had a chance to score some more points after junior Tarin Hatcher recovered a fumble at the MELHS’ 35-yard line with 5:15 left in the third quarter, but were forced to punt after four plays.
South Fork, which is located about 30 minutes southeast of Springfield, scored 16 points each in the first and fourth quarters to pick up its first win of the season. The Ponies lost their first two games to Warrensburg-Latham and Sullivan.
“I thought the first three quarters of football were pretty good,” MELHS coach Matt Tschudy said. “The fourth quarter, we fell apart. They scored a couple of touchdowns and we kind of got gassed a little bit.”
South Fork coach Tim Chapman applauded the Knights’ effort. Last year, the Ponies won 31-0.
“Metro East Lutheran played very well,” Chapman said. “The kids have a ton of heart. They’re well coached and they physically beat the tar out of us. Fundamentally, we did some things that we don’t normally do and when we fixed some things, I thought we did well, but you have to give all of the credit of the world to Metro. They showed up and played tonight.”
The Knights finished with 149 yards of offense, 45 of them were on the ground. Jones had 65 yards on five receptions, sophomore Kam Williams had 41 yards on two receptions and sophomore quarterback Damien James threw for 104 yards with a touchdown.
Johnson finished with eight tackles, senior Earl Green – a transfer from Granite City High -- had six tackles and sophomore Darrien Miller had six tackles and an interception in the second quarter that later set up Jones’ touchdown.
The Knights have six seniors, eight juniors and 17 sophomores on their team. MELHS has 38 players this year after having 24 in 2015.
“We’re a pretty young team,” Tschudy said. “We have some guys with experience from last year and there are a couple of guys played for a couple of years of football. It’s kind of a good mix right now -- experienced and inexperienced. But the more they play, the better they get.