BLOOMINGTON — In a game that featured nine plays of more than 30 yards, the Bloomington Purple Raiders got the last big play and the victory.
Kendrick Cooley’s 60-yard touchdown reception on a pass from Jake Romani with 24 seconds left gave the Purple Raiders a 55-50 victory over the Danville Vikings at Fred Carlton Field.
“There were a lot of big plays both ways,’’ Danville coach B.J. Luke said. “I’m proud of the way that our kids battled back, but we just couldn’t get a stop on that last series.’’
And it looked like the Vikings (0-1) had the Purple Raiders in deep trouble when sophomore LaTrey Reed sacked Romani on second down, driving Bloomington back to its 35 and forcing the Purple Raiders to call their final timeout.
On third down, Romani got a 6-yard completion Corree Harrell and with the clock ticking down to 30 seconds, Bloomington had a fourth down-and-15 from its 40.
Cooley, who also had a 82-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and a 47-yard touchdown run earlier in the game, slipped past Danville senior defensive back Chris Collier. Romani lofted the pass that Cooley caught at the 25, shrugged off a tackle attempt for Collier and sprint into the end zone.
“This is a terrible feeling,’’ said Collier, who had all four of Danville’s big plays in the contest. “I got caught in the backfield and my guy got past me. It shouldn’t have happened and I’m not going to let it happen ever again.’’
Bloomington’s final touchdown came just 1 minute, 34 seconds after Danville quarterback Trent Sherfield had given the Vikings 50-47 lead on a 2-yard touchdown run.
Sherfield, who rushed for 132 yards, had a 60-yard completion to Collier to set up the touchdown. Sherfield and Collier connected seven times for 251 yards, including touchdown passes of 80, 38, and 4.
“I was really proud of the way our kids came back after falling behind,’’ Luke said. “That’s a top-10 rated team over there and we played them tooth-and-nail on their home field.’’
And while Collier was pleased with how the seventh-rated Vikings (0-1) came back, he said that he expected more from himself and his team.
“We’ve got to practice harder,’’ he said. “This is not acceptable. I feel like I let my team down.’’
When asked how he did that, Collier said, “I need to go harder and make my teammates better.’’
Ultimately, it was poor tackling and three costly possessions to start the second half that doomed Danville.
Sherfield was intercepted twice during that stretch, both of those turnovers led directly to Bloomington touchdowns and in between those was a 2-yard punt by Sherfield that also turned into a Purple Raiders score.
“I don’t know what happened in third quarter,’’ Collier said. “We were moving the ball so well in the first half, I think we just thought it was going to keep happening that way.’’
The 20 unanswered points for the Purple Raiders turned the Vikings 36-19 halftime advantage into a 39-36 deficit with six minutes left in the contest.
“We’re a thin football team, we’re doing everything we can to correct that but there isn’t any other answers,’’ Luke said. “We’re just going to have to play ourselves into football shape.’’
After falling behind, Danville found another gear. The Vikings came back with a 19-yard touchdown run by Sherfield, and that score was set up by a 57-yard completion to Collier. The senior quarterback had four rushing touchdowns in the game.
“When we needed a big offensive play, it seemed like Trent and Chris came up with one for us,’’ Luke said.
And Sherfield almost came up with another one on the kickoff after Bloomington’s game-winning score. He took the kickoff on the 5-yard line and raced right, faking a handoff to Collier, and made it to the Danville 35 where he was tripped up by a Purple Raider defender. It looked like Sherfield was just one block away from going the distance.
Danville scored the game’s first 20 points when Sherfield scoring a a 3 and 12-yard run in the first quarter and Collier had an 80-yard touchdown reception just 19 seconds into the second quarter.
The second touchdown run was set up by Bloomington’s only turnover in the game. Mike Vascura, a defensive end for the Vikings, stripped Romani of the ball on a pass play and Tyvon Cooper recovered the fumble at the Bloomington 13. On the first play from scrimmage, Sherfield raced into the end zone.
Bloomington, who is rated No. 10 and the defending Big 12 Conference co-champions with Urbana, came back with a 62-yard pass from Romani, who was 17-of-25 for 300 yards, to Christian Neal and after the second of three touchdown receptions for Collier, the Purple Raiders responded with an 82-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
Next week, Danville has another tough game on the road as the Vikings travel to Chicago to face St. Rita. Bloomington is at home against Normal Community.