East Alton-Wood River’s Zach Womack led an explosive backfield, while Marquette Catholic’s Sam Stemm guided a stout defensive line on the local gridiron in 2016.
Both players helped their teams to playoff berths in ‘16. Their efforts helped them earn AdVantage News Co-Football Players of the Year honors.
For the Oilers it was a memorable season, making the postseason for the first time since 2006. They were 6-4 in head coach Garry Herron’s second year.
Womack finished with 1,515 yards from scrimmage and 19 total touchdowns. He rumbled for 1,442 yards on the ground on 112 carries, scoring 17 rushing TDs, while adding 7 receptions for 73 yards and 2 more scores.
His eruption for 599 yards rushing and 10 TDs over the final two weeks of the regular season were just what the doctor ordered for EA-WR. A 46-7 rout of Mount Olive on the road in Week 9 punched the Oilers’ ticket to the playoffs.
“I got hurt in the Metro game (Week 5), so I didn’t play in the Pawnee game, and then against South Fork I came back and we won that game, barely,” Womack said. “After we won that game it became real that we could make the playoffs, so the last two weeks against Nokomis and Mount Olive I knew what I had to do and I just put on a show, I guess.”
Unfortunately the first playoff win in EA-WR history evaded the Oilers. They went to Carlinville for the opening round and were crushed 76-19, despite trailing just 14-12 early on.
EA-WR watched Cavies’ running back Jacob Dixon rumble for 328 yards and 5 TDs on the ground.
Womack, who had 186 yards on the ground and 2 scores, said he learned by watching Dixon.
“He runs really hard and whenever he makes a move it’s at full speed; he doesn’t stop,” Womack said. “He can stop on a dime and maintains his speed, and he’s got crazy good balance also and he’s strong.
“Coach Herron told me to watch the game film on him and study him and I know what I need to work on now is my balance, strength and full-speed cuts.”
With most of his teammates back in ‘17, Womack said he is anxious to get back on the field. The goal is to win that elusive first playoff game for the Oilers.
“That’s what our goal is for next season, and a lot of us are coming back,” Womack said. “We’re only losing four or five key seniors. It’s definitely in our minds to win the first (postseason) game in Oiler history.”
As for Stemm, he directed a defensive line that dominated for the Explorers in ‘16.
After allowing a second-quarter rushing touchdown in Week 2 to Mater Dei, Marquette’s starting defensive line allowed zero rushing TDs during Prairie State Conference play. The Explorers finished 7-3 and bowed out of the playoffs to Taylorville, 32-24, in the first round.
“Our defensive line was phenomenal,” Stemm said. “We had Alex Tesson, Brandon Buhs, all of them; they just worked phenomenally. Anything anyone asked of them they would do it.
“Winning the Prairie State Conference, which is a big run conference, that was our goal to stop the run. That’s what we did and we worked on it all year.”
Stemm finished with 43 total tackles, including 29 solos. His 29 solo tackles were second on the team. He also tied Alex Roberts with 5 sacks to lead the team.
Stemm was a leader for the Explorers as a senior and two-year starter on both the offensive and defensive lines.
“Last year I was somewhat of a leader and it helped having two years of being a vocal leader on the team,” Stemm said. “People listened to me more and thought of me as a spokesman for the team being that second-year leader.”
Stemm also enjoyed his time on the offensive line. He shifted from center to guard in ‘16 and loved being able to block for running backs D’Avion Peebles and Trevin Swingler and quarterback Brady McAfee.
“You really just had to go get in front of the guy and they’d cut around you,” he said. “Blocking for all those guys was great, even Brady when he ran.”
Stemm admitted the loss to Taylorville was tough. The Explorers led 24-15 at halftime, but watched the Tornadoes outscore them 17-0 the second half.
The game was played at Public School Stadium, and for Stemm leaving that field behind will be hard.
“I’ll miss walking down those steps at West,” Stemm said. “Walking down and seeing that bowl of a stadium — I’ll miss that.”