The Iliad: Memorial football gets revenge on Reitz in sectional championship

Anthony Kristensen
Evansville Courier & Press

EVANSVILLE — The final pass fell into Carson Anslinger’s arms with just over a minute remaining. The Memorial defensive back had the Tigers’ third and most crucial interception in its 21-16 win over previously unbeaten Reitz in the sectional football championship.

Anslinger had trouble getting any words out. An unlikely Achilles-level hero in Memorial’s Iliad against the Panthers — the Tigers’ Hector — the senior screamed. This was to avenge a previous 34-0 loss this season. This was for another chapter in the famous play. 

This was for revenge.

Students rushed the field and found Anslinger. They jumped on him and gave him loving smacks. The deed done; the night won. Students celebrated with many of the characters, but Carson Anslinger’s winning play made him the nightly Achilles.

Memorial celebrates with its sectional trophy after beating Reitz 21-16 at Enlow Field.

“I get it and I’m like, ‘Woah, this is really happening,’” said Ansligner, moments after teammate Sam Nichols dubbed him the best safety of all time. “Yeah, it’s crazy.”

Memorial’s Friday night Iliad saw it claim its seventh sectional title in eight years, another play written by the Tigers’ own Homer — coach John Hurley. The Tigers didn’t win with the traditional flashiness and dominance to which the program has become accustomed over the years. The script was simple: Grind it out, stop the run, keep Reitz off the sidelines and limit the Panthers’ explosiveness.

“It’s hard to grab a lot of juice when you’ve got no air,” Hurley said. “(I’m) really proud of the way those guys executed and did their jobs tonight.”

Memorial’s season, same as any good play, has had moments of elation and questions. The Tigers started undefeated before meeting Reitz without starting quarterback Matthew Fisher and running back Porter Rode. Momentum faded but worked its way back into the fold. Playoff wins piled and resulted in the sectional title Friday and revenge against Hector. There were two plays on the final drive in which Reitz thought it’d recovered fumbles, neither of which were given. Thus, the story was written.

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Anslinger, while crucial, had others in the protagonist roles. Makeshift quarterback Luke Ellspermann, who is still listed as a wide receiver on the roster, and running back Dylen Kendrick were their own sort of Achilles and their own kind of playwrights.

Ellsperman had two total touchdowns, as did Kendrick. Each had one rushing and another through the air. The winning score, a 70-yard connection between the two, required some ad-libbing.

Memorial had a third-down situation and planned the passing play. Kendrick wasn’t sure what to do on the play and asked the stand-in QB, who told him to “just run right up the middle.”

“I had no idea,” Kendrick said. “He told me and I looked over, kind of bobbled it and I was like, ‘Alright, well, I’m gonna score,’ so I kept running.”

Ellspermann’s under-center switch was mediated by his brother, Caleb, formerly playing quarterback. He learned from that. The consistency of a program that’s won seven titles in eight years helped, too. He attributed the smooth transition to Hurly and the other coaches — the Tigers’ Homers.

Memorial players and students celebrate with the sectional trophy after beating Reitz 21-16 at Enlow Field.

“Coach Hurley’s helped me a lot with my — everything,” Ellspermann said. “Working on my footwork and stuff like that. Just trying to be the best team player I can and try to help this team in any way possible.”

Hurley didn’t boast or take credit postgame. He let others soak in the famed conclusion and the title that adds to the evergrowing list. Hurley may not be a true playwright, but he is Memorial’s Homer. Hector watched on as the Tigers celebrated, jubilated in a vengeful win and eyes fixated on the trophy.

Each individual Achilles got his moment with the reward; each cemented another moment of consistency that Memorial has built over the past decade. At least one more test remains, though this latest Iliad was sweet for those who call Enlow Field home.

“It’s uncommon. And what’s uncommon is these kids buy into doing it for each other,” Hurley said. “That’s a tough sell sometimes. … If you can get to the point where they do it for each other and for their school, you’ve got a shot.”

Homer then walked off to celebrate with his characters and to begin planning another story for next week.