Andy Francis wasn't quite sure what made his 5-11 frame leap high enough to pull down an interception in the end zone against Rock Island's tallest player Friday night at Burgess Field.
But the Geneva senior defensive back made the play that changed the momentum in the Vikings' 27-14 non-conference season-opening victory over state power Rock Island.
Francis' heroics occurred early in the fourth quarter of a 21-14 game, with Rock Island pounding its way toward a game-tying touchdown.
On third-and-10 at the Geneva 14-yard line, Rock Island quarterback Zach Chapman tried to hit his biggest target, 6-3 Cole McGinnis, near the back of the end zone, but Francis came down with the ball.
"We knew they were going to pass, so my responsibility is to get deep and fortunately I was in the right place at the right time and made a play on the ball," Francis said. "I'm only 5-11, but with all of the adrenaline pumping, I really wanted to get up there, and we both kind of grabbed at it at the same time and when we were coming down, I kind of ripped it away from him a little bit."
The turnover shifted momentum back to Geneva, who followed the lead of tailback Parker Woodworth (17 carries, 104 yards), who ran for three touchdowns, and a defense that bent but would not break against the Rocks' vaunted Wing-T offense.
Rock Island sophomore Brandon Richardson made things tough for Geneva by compiling a game-high 195 yards on 33 carries, including a 29-yard touchdown scamper in the second quarter.
"I'm really pleased with the defense and the game plan that our coaches put together, because we just can't simulate that stuff (the Wing-T), and it's definitely a challenge to stop that offense," Geneva coach Rob Wicinski said.
But the Geneva offense provided plenty of challenges for Rock Island, as Williams spread things around in going 8-of-12 passing for 140 yards while hooking up with six different receivers.
Geneva (1-0), playing without receiver Ben Rogers, who was out with a strained calf, looked unstoppable on its first two possessions. The Vikings capped a 10-play, 74-yard opening drive with Woodworth's 9-yard touchdown run. Williams threw his only touchdown pass of the night on the second drive, with a strike to tight end Connor Einck as he slashed toward the right side of the end zone.
DayQwon Jones intercepted a Williams pass in the end zone early in the second quarter, and Rock Island righted itself with Richardson's long touchdown run off a misdirection play.
But Geneva answered right back for a 21-6 halftime lead when Woodworth scampered around the right end from five yards out with 1:13 left.
"As soon as we started running the ball, our passing game opened up tremendously," Williams said. "It was just pitch-and-catch, but I missed a few throws and made one bad decision.
"It didn't bite us this time, but if we keep making those mistakes, it will, but our offensive line did a heck of a job up front," Williams added. "We go as our offensive line goes, that's all that matters."
Rock Island crept closer when Quendareus Chamberlain capped an 8-minute drive to open the second half with a 5-yard touchdown run. When Markel Richardson pushed a shovel pass to Nate Mueller in the end zone, Rock Island (0-1) was within a touchdown at 21-14.
On the next possession, Geneva went with a fake punt around midfield, but Williams, also the team's punter, misfired on a long pass.
"It's a designed play where Matt can run or punt, and I'm a little bit of a riverboat gambler and so is Matt, and I kept it open for him," Wicinski said.
Francis' leaping interception kept Wicinski from having to second-guess himself on the fake punt.
"It didn't happen there (on the fake punt), but Matt made a lot of plays happen tonight that I needed, so I'll go to battle with that boy anytime because good, bad or indifferent, he's my guy," Wicinski said.
With the momentum back, Geneva closed the door on what Woodworth said was the biggest play of the night when he took a pitchout from Williams and scampered 20 yards for the final score with 4:11 left in the game.
"The pitchout toss was just a big play," Woodworth said. "I just followed the linemen and got out there and got after it."
Veteran Rock Island coach Vic Boblett sounded more like the coach who had won the game, but he was extremely pleased with how his young squad, with five sophomores starting, performed.
"We knew coming in that the game was in the young kids' hands and I was really happy with how they responded," Boblett said. "We played a really good Geneva team, and we had our chances to beat them."