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Clippers use tough running to advance to quarterfinals

Ground, pound

Amboy's Tanner Behrends and Jordan Ernst (6) bring down Orion's David Aguilera on Saturday in a Class 2A second-round playoff game. The Clippers won 43-18.
Amboy's Tanner Behrends and Jordan Ernst (6) bring down Orion's David Aguilera on Saturday in a Class 2A second-round playoff game. The Clippers won 43-18.

ORION – Amboy looked like Big Rivers bullies.

The Clippers lost standout fullback Bailey Appleman to an ankle injury early on. It didn’t matter.

Amboy smashed and dashed its way to 485 yards on the ground, handily winning the battle up front on both sides of the ball in its 43-18 romp over the Orion Chargers in the teams’ Class 2A second-round playoff battle on Saturday night.

Amboy (9-2) advanced to host a quarterfinal date with top-ranked Mercer County (11-0) next

Mercer County defeated Rockford Lutheran 42-14 Saturday. In the first round, Mercer County downed Morrison 25-14.

Appleman led the Clippers’ ground game with 102 yards in last Saturday’s 36-12 first-round win over North Shore Country Day. Against Orion, Appleman got just two carries for 14 yards before leaving in the first quarter with an ankle injury.

Cooper Nelson, Spencer Johnson and the offensive line picked up the slack. Nelson piled up 237 yards and Johnson 134, and both scored two touchdowns.

“We had to step up – me and Spencer, and Jackson [Sorrells] too,” said Nelson, who had a 91-yard run and a 48-yard TD. “We had to pull through with Bailey gone. He does a lot for us, and we had to pick up for him.”

Nelson was quick to credit the fellas up front.

“A running back is nothing without his line,” he said. “It’s all up to them if we do well.”

Johnson was happy to contribute in a big way after being slowed much of the season by an ankle injury himself.

“I’ve been limited since this came up in Week 3,” he said. “It felt good to get back to where I’ve been before.”

After Orion (6-5) went up 3-0 with a 32-yard field goal, Amboy reeled off the next 28 points.

Johnson had runs of 49 and 33 yards to set up a 6-yard TD by Appleman for the Clippers’ first score. Nelson made it 12-3 with a 48-yard touchdown run with 3:55 left in the first quarter.

It stayed that way until the third quarter, when Amboy pulled away.

Defensive lineman Garrett Liebing intercepted a tipped pass and rumbled 55 yards to the Orion 11. Two plays later, quarterback Tyson Powers scored from 7 yards out.

“At the beginning of the game, we took the momentum,” Liebing said. “We kind of slacked for a little bit, but we picked it up in the second half.”

Amboy all but put the game away with a nearly 7-minute, 80-yard drive, highlighted by Powers’ 24-yard run and capped by Nelson’s 14-yard TD run, making it 28-3 with 2:45 left in the third quarter.

Both teams scored 15 points in the fourth quarter. Johnson had touchdowns of 5 yards and 1 yard, the second set up by Nelson’s 91-yard run.

Orion had a pair of late TD passes.

Star of the game: Cooper Nelson, Amboy, 237 rushing yards, 2 TDs

Key performers: Spencer Johnson, Amboy, 134 rushing yards, 2 TDs; Blake Matson, Orion, 193 passing yards, 2 TDs; Dylan Schultz, Orion, 170 total yards

Up next: Class 2A quarterfinal, Mercer County at Amboy, time TBA Saturday

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