CHS Football lets Freeburg walk away with 31-7 victory

Jackets continue to improve, but still chase their illusive first win


CHESTER – Each week the Chester High School YellowJacket Football Team works hard and continues to show improvement in most areas, however, they still chase the illusive first win of the season.

Granted, the Jacket’s schedule has been stacked against them the past two years with the first three games being against formidable teams. In 2022 and 2023 Chester opened against DuQuoin, followed by Benton and Freeburg. All three schools have larger enrollments and historically have been good or even great teams.

Chester’s Gage Hopkins (10) runs the ball on the Yellow Jacket’s first possession of the game 09-1-23 against F the Freeburg Midgets. It was the 9:51 mark. He is chased by Freeburg’s Zhu Edison, a 5’10”, 170 Lb. senior defensive back. Hopkins gained 4-yards on the play. Jim Beers Photo 

In spite of those odds, the Jackets have not given up and continue to work hard to accomplish their goal of getting on the winning track. Last year the situation was the same as this year with CHS losing their first three games against the same teams they faced this year in weeks 1, 2, and 3.

Weeks 4,5,6,7, and 8, were victories and the Jackets earned a bid into the 2022 IHSA Class 1A State Football Playoffs. Head Coach Billy Belton hopes that this year can be salvaged just as last year and that his YellowJackets can rebound from such a devastating first three weeks.

Coach Belton said, “We just have to keep working to get better!  We have had two great weeks of practice and still have a lot of season left. I know we have a really good team and that we just have to learn to put it all together.”

Chester YellowJacket kicker Karim Landeros (27) accepts the football from the referee Friday September 1 when the YellowJackets hosted Freeburg. Landeros kicked to the Midgets to start the game at 7:00 p.m. Jim Beers Photo

“If we stop being our own worst enemy, and stop all of our turnovers, we can recover. Penalties also must be reduced or stopped. I tell our players, ‘Play for the man next to you!’ Increase the ‘Team first’ mentality”, said Belton.

In the game against Freeburg, Chester kicked off to the Midgets to start the game. The Jacket defense was tough on the first series and forced Freeburg to punt after four downs. On the punt, Chester’s Gage Hopkins ran the ball to Freeburg’s 30 yard line. All was looking good at that time.

On Chester’s first play from scrimmage, Kolton Jany ran for two yards and the second play led to Gage Hopkins adding four more yards.  CHS was moving the ball. A pass to Devante Palacio was incomplete and Chester had to punt with 9:08 left in the first quarter.

Devante Palacio (9) a 6’2′ 200 Lb, junior wide receiver runs the ball from the kickoff of Chester’s first possession Friday September 1 when the Jackets hosted Freburg. He ran the ball to Chester’s 30-yard line to start the opening series. Palacio is being chased by Nick Widel (24) a 6’3″, 259 Lb. defensive lineman and Camden Stafko (22) a 5’10”, 190 Lb. linebacker. Jim Beers Photo

The Midgets had the ball for nearly three minutes and created a six-play drive which ended with a 37-yard touchdown run by quarterback Cole Stuart. The extra point kick by Neill Thompson was good and at the 5:58 mark, Freeburg led, 7-0.

On Chester’s second possession, Kolton Jany ran for 1 yard, followed by a 4-yard run. Facing 3-and-5, Zain Al-Jassim completed a pass to Devante Palacio for 2-yards. CHS then faced 4-and-3 and had to punt with 4:11 remaining in the first quarter.

The Chester punt was extremely poor the ball only went to the Chester 36 yard line. What could have been a very serious situation, but the ole “Orange Crush” defense appeared and held to Midgets to fiver plays. Freeburg was forced to turn the ball over on downs to the YellowJackets with 2:51 left to play in the first.

The Chester High School YellowJacket Football Team takes the field Friday September 1 when CHS hosted the Freeburg Midgets. Jim Beers Photo

Chester had the ball, 1st-and-10 with 2:40 remaining. Hopkins ran for 1-yard after which Al-Jassim completed a 9-yard pass to Devante Palacio, good enough for a Chester 1st-and-ten with 2:14 left.

Chester continued to work the ball the rest of the first quarter with a 1-yard run by Kolton Jany, a 7-yard pass completion to Aden Runge, and another 8-yard run by Kolton Jany to end the 1st quarter. Freeburg led by just 7 points, 7-0, and Chester was moving the ball well to end the 1st quarter.

The second quarter started very promising with the Jackets picking up where they left off to end the first period. On the first play, Jany ran for seven yards. On the second play, Al-Jassim was sacked for a loss of 11 yards. On the third play, Al-Jassim made up for the previous mistake by completing a 12-yard pass to Kolton Jany.

Facing 4-and-2, Kolton Jany ran the ball getting extremely close to a first down, however, the officials ruled it slightly short and Chester was forced to turn the ball over on downs.

The Jacket defense then held Freeburg to 4-and-out and CHS got the ball back with 7:53 left in the first half. In that short series, Devante Palacio and Nate Maes were responsible for playing tough defense to start the series with a stop of quarterback Cole Stuart. The score remained Freeburg 7- Chester 0 with 7:53 remaining.

The Chester YellowJackets and the Freeburg Midgets demonstrate good sportsmanship Friday September 1 following the game at Chester’s W.O. Smith Field. Jim Beers Photo

On the first play from scrimmage the Jackets had a bad hike and Chester’s Zain Al-Jassim bobbled the ball. Thankfully he recovered with only an 8-yard loss. Facing 3-and-17, the Midgets were called for pass interference and were given a 10-yaard penalty. Chester then faced 3-and-7 with 6:37 to play in the half. On the next play, the Jackets fumbled the ball and Freeburg’s Nick Widel recovered the ball.

The Midgets took over 1st-and-ten at the 6:31 mark. On the first play of their second possession of the 2nd quarter, Freeburg got a first and ten on a pass to Bryson Browning, a 6’2” 205 Lb. wide receiver.

The Chester High School Marching YellowJackets and Dance Team perform at halftime of the CHS vs Freeburg game Friday September 1. The 2023 Halftime Show features the music of Carlos Santana. Jim Beers Photo

Tucker Murphy then ran for 4-yards on Play No. 2. Facing 2-and-6, Chester’s Devante Palacio had a great tackle for a 7-yard loss and that fired up the Chester defense. Freeburg then faced 3-and-13 at the 4:29 mark. The “Orange Crush” CHS defense held the Midgets the final two plays and forced a punt.

Chester’s Gage Hopkins had a fantastic run and returned the ball to the Freeburg 39 yard line.  Chester fans were super excited to have the ball with 4:12 to play with excellent field position.

During the Friday September 1 Chester High School Football game between the YellowJackets and the Freeburg Midgets, the Chester High School Marching YellowJackets, Dance Team, and Cheer Squad perform the CHS Fight Song, “GO YOU YELLOWJACKETS.” as the crowd sings along. Jim Beers Photo

The Freeburg defense held CHS to no yardage for the first two plays of the series. On the third play from scrimmage, Zain Al-Jassim threw a perfect pass to Gage Hopkins who was wide open along the left sideline. 

A completion would have possibly resulted in a Hopkins touchdown. Everyone was counting on huge play when Hopkins seemed to lose the low pass and it went through his legs. One final pass was incomplete and Chester turned the ball over on downs with 2:32 remaining in the first half.

CHS Cheer Parents Shannon and Nicole Wolff (right) sell Cheerleader 50/50 tickets to Marty and Karen Bert (left) Friday September 1 at the CHS vs Freeburg game hosted at W.O. Smith Field. The Wolff’s are the parents of Camryn Wolff a sophomore cheerleader. The Cheer Parents sell 50/50 tickets at each varsity home game throughout the season to help support the YellowJacket Cheer Squad. Jim Beers Photo

The final Freeburg series of the half was mixed. The Midgets got 7-yards on the first play on a quarterback keeper. CHS defended the second play which was a pass. Jase Brentlinger ran for six yards on play No. 3 for a first down.

Following that play the Midgets attempted a quick run which was quickly stopped by the Jacket defense. Facing 2-and-10, Freeburg quarterback, Cole Stuart attempted a quarterback sneak which got him one yard but he fumbled the ball on the tackle.  Bryson Browning recovered the loose ball and the Midgets faced 4-and-3 with just 41-seconds to play.

 Trish Handel (left) and Ashley Fricke (right) manned the ticket booth on the Chester side of the football field at the Friday September 1 football game when Chester hosted the Freeburg Midgets. Jim Beers Photo

On the final play of the series, Cole Stuart hit Tucker Murphy for a 33-yard touchdown pass. Neill Thompson kicked the extra point and Freeburg extended their lead to 14-0 with just 36.6 seconds remaining. Chester ran two quick, unsuccessful plays to end the first half.

In spite of a 14-0 deficit, Chester was very much still in the game. The score could have been very different if the Jackets had not shot themselves in the foot five times with 1) 11-yard sack; 2) turn over on downs; 3) bad hike; 4) Fumble and lost ball; and 5) dropped potential touchdown pass.

Chester had the ball to start the 3rd quarter. The Jackets had the ball for 19 plays in nine minutes with five first downs.  With 3:18 left in the 3rd quarter, Chester had to turn the ball over on downs.

During that stretch Kolton Jany ran the ball five times and caught a pass.  Gage Hopkins ran three times and caught a pass. Cayden Brunkhorst caught a pass for a first down, and Zain Al-Jassim orchestrated it all. The Jackets were knocking at the goal line for the final three plays before they were forced to turn the ball over on downs.

Players and Head Coaches from the Chester YellowJackets and the Freeburg Midgets gather at center field on the 50-yard line with referees for the traditional pre-game coin toss. Chester players include (left to right) seniors Nate Heuer (52), Aden Runge (2), and Korbin Jany (12) with junior Alex Williamson (66). Head Coach Billy Belton is at the right. Freeburg received the opening kickoff with Chester’s Karim Landeros doing the kicking. Jim Beers Photo

On Freeburg’s first play from scrimmage, they fumbled the ball.  Chester recovered the ball and appeared to score a touchdown, but after much discussion among the referees CHS had to return the ball the Midgets. The Jacket defense then held Freeburg for three downs and forced the Midgets to punt with 1:50 to play in the 3rd quarter.

Chester took the punt to the 44 yard line with 1:40 to play in the quarter.  The Jackets had the ball for four downs and had to turn the ball over to Freeburg on downs with .59 to play.

 Freeburg completed two plays before the clock ran out to end the 3rd quarter. Neither team scored in the 3rd period. The score remained, 14-0 in favor of Freeburg. It was still a very winnable game for either team.

The 4th quarter was still competitive with both teams playing solid defense and each team’s offense scoring points.

Freeburg had the ball to start the period. The YellowJacket defense stopped the Midgets and put them into a 4-and-6 position. At the CHS 10 yard line with 9:26 to play in the game, the Midget’s Neill Thompson kicked a 27-yard field goal to give Freeburg three more points. They led, 17-0.

On Chester’s next possession, a Zain Al-Jassim pass was good to Devante Palacio, but on the tackle, he fumbled the ball and Freeburg recovered. Three plays later, Freeburg’s Cole Stuart found Weston Jarvis, a 6’1” sophomore wide receiver, for a huge 57-yard touchdown pass. Neill Thompson kicked the extra point and the Midgets led, 24-0 with 8:12 remaining in the game.

On Chester’s next possession, the Jackets were moving the ball. Kolton Jany returned the ball to CHS 29 yard line on the kickoff.  Aden Runge caught a 14-yard pass for a first down. Korbin Jany caught an 8-yard pass for a first down with the ball landing on the Freeburg 35 yard line.

Facing 3-and-7 the Jackets threw a pass which was basically caught, but as the YellowJacket receiver turned to run, Freeburg’s Tucker Murphy took the ball. It was recorded as an interception.

With 4:26 left to play, Freeburg faced a 4-and 3 situation. Chester was called for a 5-yard penalty for off sides, giving Freeburg a first down.

Four plays later, the Midgets fumbled the ball and Chester’s Gage Hopkins recovered the ball and ran it in for a Chester touchdown with 2:45 to play in the game. Kareem Landeros kicked the extra point and the YellowJackets trailed by 17 points, 24-7.

On the ensuing kickoff, Chester attempted an on-side kick which failed and Freeburg had the ball on their 35-yard line with 2:45 to play and a first down. On Freeburg’s second play from scrimmage they scored a 57-yard touchdown on a run by quarterback Cole Stuart. The extra point kick was good and Freeburg led, 31-7 with 1:50 remaining.

Chester could not score in the final 1:36 and the clock ran out with the Midgets winning 31-7.  In the second half the YellowJackets had some very impressive plays and encouraging runs, however once again, several miscues caused Chester to lose momentum and the ball at times.

For example the Jackets 1) turned the ball over on downs (.59, 3rd quarter); 2) fumbled and lost the ball (9:26, 4th quarter); 3) had an interception (6:53, 4th quarter); 4) off sides penalty giving Freeburg a first down (6:53, 4th quarter); 5) bad snap (.55, 4th quarter).

In the game, Chester ran 63 plays and Freeburg ran 51 plays. Freeburg recorded a total of 301 yards (112 passing & 189 rushing) and Chester had 204 yards (128 passing & 76 rushing). CHS recorded 11 first downs while Freeburg had 10 first downs.

The Jackets were 0-13 on third downs (0%) and Freeburg was 2-12 on third downs (17%). Chester was 4-for-9 (44%) on 4th downs and Freeburg was 2-for-3 (67%) on 4th downs.

Chester had 3 turnovers (2 fumbles & 1 interception) while Freeburg had 1 turnover (fumble). Finally, the Jackets committed four penalties for 30 yards and Freeburg had five penalties for 15 yards.

In the loss, Chester’s quarterback, Zain Al-Jassim, completed 9-of-17 (53%) passes for 124 yards and one interception. Freeburg’s Cole Stuart connected on 4-for-9 (44%) passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns.

Chester ran for just 76 yards on 37 carries led by Kolton Jany (11 carries for 37 yards); Gage Hopkins (6 carries for 11 yards); Cayden Brunkhorst (1 carry for six yards)’ Aden Runge (3 carries for 4 yards); Logan Jausel (1 carry for 2 yards).

The YellowJackets caught 11 passes for 128 yards led by Devante Palacio (2 for 44 yards); Aden Runge (2 for 35 yards); Kolton Jany (2 for 14 yards); Cayden Brunkhorst (1 for 11 yards); Korbin Jany (1 for 8 yards); and Gage Hopkins (1 for 0 yards).

On defense Chester had 22 solo tackles, 64 tackle assists, and 7 tackles for a loss led by Gage Hopkins (4 solo, 5 assists, 3 tackles for a loss); Devante Palacio (3 solos, 2 assists, and 1 tackle for a loss); Nate Heuer ( 3 solos, 3 assists, and 1 tackle for a loss); Trentin Eggemeyer (3 solos and 2 assists); Gage Hopkins (2 solos and 3 assists); Cayden Brunkhorst (2 solos and 2 assists); and Korbin Jany (2 solos and 3 assists).

Gage Hopkins had 1 fumble recovery which led to him scoring the YellowJacket’s only touchdown.

Next up for Chester will be a trip to Christopher-Zeigler-Royalton this Friday September 15. Kickoff is 7:00 p.m.  This is a non-conference game.