Brian Plotner doesn't anticipate any letdowns this week.
It would be natural for one to occur. His fourth-ranked (Class 1A) team is unbeaten and playing Hoopeston Area (0-5) in a Friday homecoming game at Catlin High School.
"There's so much at stake," Plotner said. "There's the actual chance to clinch a playoff berth. It's homecoming."
It's also the healthiest the Storm has been since Week 1, so it's a chance to start tuning up for the postseason.
The absence of several regulars in recent games has turned into a blessing.
"We have some kids who got valuable playing experience and have proven themselves and we know they can help down the road in game situations," Plotner said.
One of those players, sophomore fullback Cody Davis, actually has more rushing attempts this season (50) than any other squad member. He has gained 254 yards.
"He's one of the kids who has done a nice job," Plotner said.
Ironically, Davis is a bit banged up. He has an ankle injury.
Another player who has stepped out of the shadows is senior guard Brad Collins. Two other seniors, Brandon Tuggle and Caleb Williams, are the starting guards, but both play on defense.
Collins' emergence has enabled him to rest Tuggle or Williams every third series.
"Brad had a nice game last week (35-7 win over Bismarck-Henning) and we need him to continue to progress," Plotner said. "I am very pleased with Brad."
Salt Fork (5-0) is showing proficiency in an area which concerned the coach in the preseason.
"Our biggest question mark coming into the season was at cornberback," Plotner said. "Joe Pratt and Rileigh Darnell have been a big boost for our defense."
Darnell picked off two Blue Devil passes last week and shared the team lead with Pratt. Pratt broke up two passes against B-H.
"They are both solid tacklers," Plotner said.
Quarterback J.D. Learnard continues to be at the controls of a potent offense. The area passing leader needs 70 yards against the Cornjerkers to reach the 1,000-yard mark for the second consecutive year.
Learnard has thrown 12 TD passes, including four to Chris Wills who had gains of 178 yards last week on four receptions.
"Chris played behind a lot of talented receivers last year and didn't get a chance to do much on offense," Plotner said, "but he has made some tremendous catches and runs the last couple games."
Defensively, Williams had 10 tackles against the Blue Devils, his fourth consecutive game in double figures.
The Tigers have scored 12 touchdowns in their past two games (seven by sophomore Brandon Pratt) and take a 3-2 record into Friday's homecoming game against Schlarman (1-4).
In last week's 44-21 win over Milford, Westville had to overcome a 21-14 first-quarter deficit.
"After the first quarter, the kids played pretty good," Westville coach Guy Goodlove said.
Some of the early problems were due to the opposition.
"Milford is a lot better team than what people gave them credit for at the beginning of the year," Goodlove said. "We had a difficult time defending (Ryan) Kunce. Sometimes we had two guys on him and he'd jump up in-between them and pull it down."
Kunce burned the Tigers for 128 yards (and two TDs) on nine catches.
Goodlove is emphasizing the need for his team to show improvement from one week to the next.
"We want to keep taking steps forward week after week," he said. "We've been playing our best football and Friday night, we want to play our best football of the year.
"We're into the sixth week of the season and, by gosh, if we're not starting to get it put together now, when it comes playoff time, we'll be in trouble."
Senior Dustin Billings returns after serving a four-game disciplinary suspension. However, the Game 1 starting quarterback will return as a receiver and, as Goodlove said, "a 6-foot-4 target."
Sophomore Matt Maser has taken over the quarterbacking duties and has completed 23 of 39 passes in his four starts while averaging in excess of 125 passing yards per game.
Dusty Zaayer, who scored his first varsity TD last week, also led the defensive charge against the Bearcats. He had 12 tackles. Teammate Alex McMahon had nine stops.
Other Tigers who stood out were Chris Hathaway and Jeremy Ottino.
A defensive end, Goodlove said Hathaway "is able to shut anything and everything down that comes his way. Milford ran away from Chris."
Ottino is a junior who has earned a starting position on both the offensive and defensive lines.
He got on our (off-season) weight program and made a commitment and now he is seeing the benefits of that commitment," Goodlove said. "Jeremy really played well."
The Comets (3-2) have been virtually unstoppable the past three weeks, registering 21 touchdowns. The team carries a three-game winning streak into Friday's game at Bismarck-Henning.
O/A-P has been effective with a minimum of passing. In its past three games covering 12 quarters, the Comets have attempted 15 passes.
"We wouldn't mind passing the ball," O/A-P coach Gary Denhart said. "Taylor Walsh is around 50 percent (completion percentage), but we haven't been in a situation where we've had to pass.
"I think we can pass and it's not like we've quit practicing it, but when you can keep the ball on the ground, that makes it nice."
Senior Brady Leeman has been the workhorse in conference wins over Schlarman, Hoopeston Area and Georgetown-Ridge Farm (39-14 last week).
He has been called upon 65 times in those games and responded with 669 yards on the ground.
`"Our offensive line keeps improving," Denhart said. "They did some good things. (Stephen) Kuchefski and (Jacob) McGlaughlin had good games.
"Defensively, the one who sticks out is Blake Warren. He was a sparkplug and has become an anchor on the defensive line. He has been a good player for three years, but last week was the first time I said he was the emotional leader. That's one more thing to build on."
O/A-P is in a virtually identical situation to last year when it entered its week 6 game against Bismarck-Henning with a 3-2 overall record.
The Comets trailed 7-0 in a game they came back to win 14-7. While some community members are looking ahead to games against Westville (Week 7) or Salt Fork (Week 9), Denhart will have no part of that talk.
"Nobody in this locker room is looking ahead," he said.
Defensively, the leaders last week against G-RF (with six tackles apiece) were John Garrett, Corey Pankow and Ray Withers.
O/A-P suffered no new injuries last week and will welcome the return of two-way starter J Sutton, who missed last week's game while out of town for a wedding.
"Chris Wade did a nice job filling in, but I don't want to play another game without him," Denhart said.
The Hilltoppers snapped a losing streak which officially had reached 24 games (though last year's nine losses were by forfeit) since a Week 7 triumph over Hoopeston Area in 2005.
Schlarman fell behind the Cornjerkers again last week, but regrouped and went on to a 41-18 victory.
"Too bad we couldn't have played like that the last couple of weeks," Schlarman coach Jay Willaman said. "We might have had another win or two."
The heroes were many, Willaman said.
"Our offensive line did well, Steve Kutz did well running through the middle, Vinnie Miller probably had the game of his life (189 yards rushing, 10 tackles and two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown), Kyle Golden made some good catches and Heath Goodwin was throwing the ball real well," Willaman said.
Schlarman rushed for more than 400 yards and gained another 104 through the air. Goodwin completed 6 of 12 passes, with Golden snaring four receptions.
"The thing that excited our kids the most was to see everybody in our crowd come out on the field (for a postgame celebration)," Willaman said. "There were a lot of kids on that football field. Almost everybody who goes to school there had to be there."
The quest now, as Schlarman becomes the homecoming opponent for Westville, is "to keep moving forward," the coach said.
"Westville is a very good program, but we will try to stay focused and stay positive. We would like to make it competitive. That would be a step in the right direction for us."
One of the Hilltoppers' defensive stalwarts last week was Anthony Drake. In his first game after being shifted from inside linebacker to outside linebacker, he had a team-high 14 tackles.
"He responded well," WIllaman said.
Mike Callahan, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the fourth game, is scheduled to undergo surgery on Thursday.
"With him being a senior, that is heartbreaking for me," Willaman said.
Callahan had 30 tackles in four games.
No school in the Vermilion Valley Conference has played a tougher first five games than coach Mark Dodd's Blue Devils.
B-H (0-5) has losses to two 5-0 teams as well as losses to two other foes which are 3-2. Overall, the cumulative record for the first five B-H opponents is 18-7.
After playing host to 3-2 Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac on Friday, the schedule becomes more favorable. The team's final three foes, entering Week 6, have three total wins.
"The competition we played turned out to be really tough," Dodd said. "With us being as young as we are, I wish it had been reversed."
Though his team lost 35-7 last week to unbeaten Salt Fork, Dodd said, "by far, it was our best overall game from start to finish. Our kids are competing and our effort against Salt Fork was a very positive sign."
Senior Brian Clapp had his top offensive performance, rushing for a team-high 95 yards. Clapp also caught two passes and had eight tackles.
"He had his best game as a running back," Dodd said. "His vision and cuts were much better."
With his backs running behind an offensive line consisting of two juniors and three sophomores, Dodd sees reason for optimism.
"We think better days are ahead for us," he said, "and we hope we don't have to wait until next year.
"Oakwood is bigger than us and they are powerful. We'll have to keep stepping up. If we improve like we did a week ago, we can give them a game."
Last week's top tacklers were sophomores: Ross Darby (12), Dakota Patton (11), Matt LeCleir (10). Freshman Reed Collins (nine stops) was next.
The playoff picture for the Bearcats (2-3) will become much clearer after Friday. If Milford improves its season record to .500, a five-win season would appear more plausible than if the team takes a 2-4 record into its seventh game.
"Everyone is very aware of the fact we can win five games, but we don't talk about it," head coach Nate Albaugh said. "Our No. 1 priority is beating Georgetown."
That won't be an easy task, he said.
"They spread things out and fire away," Albaugh said. "It's a hugely different offense than what we've seen in the first five games. It has taken a little extra preparation time trying to figure out how to defense them."
The bottom line?
"We have to play good football," Albaugh said.
For the third consecutive game, quarterback Trevor Lucht increased his passing production last week. He threw for 170 yards in the loss to Westville.
Lucht was withheld from his linebacking position last week to make certain he didn't aggravate an injury. This week, he's ready to play on both platoons.
"Trevor has made incredible strides in the last month," Albaugh said.
Junior Kyle Evans became the team's first 100-yard rusher last week, running for 131 yards against the Tigers.
"He is turning into a heck of a back," Albaugh said. "Overall, I'm pleased with the way we're running the football."
Defensively, Kunce had nine tackles and Sean Dawson six against Westville.
The offense made gains last week, but Milford's defense had a tougher time.
"We couldn't stop them," Albaugh said. "They're too good. We could tell from the moment they walked in, they're a load."
The Bearcats will try to snap a two-game losing streak against the Buffaloes.
The Buffaloes' two-game winning streak was ended last week by O/A-P in a 39-14 game that was 20-14 entering the fourth period.
"It was a pretty good game until 9 minutes to go," coach Jason Baccadutre said. "Then we lost our heads and mentally got out of it. Against a team like that, you can't mentally break down at all.
"Oakwood took advantage and put 20 on us like that."
Up until the late stages of the game, Baccadutre liked much of what he saw.
"We tackled a lot better than we have in the past and played very well," he said. "We had played hard up to that point."
Sophomore Robert Parker had his best passing game on varsity, competing 11 of 22 attempts for 172 yards. Junior Alex Pratt had four receptions and senior Chase Vire caught three balls.
"Oakwood is very athletic and we hung with them or a while," Baccadutre said. "We have to learn how to finish a game. Once we put together four quarters, we'll be all right. If we play well, we can play with anybody in the conference."
In an earlier 20-10 loss to Iroquois West, G-RF took a 10-6 lead into the fourth quarter.
Neither the coach nor his players are dwelling on the past.
"Kids are kids and they are optimistic," Baccadutre said. "They rebound quickly."
The team's defensive leaders last week were Pratt (14 tackles), Brandon Herrin (13 tackles) and Zack Digby (12 tackles). Tyler Dill intercepted two passes.
Junior Cody Eells caught a pass for the fifth consecutive game and rushed for a career-high 168 yards against Schlarman in a game where he totaled 402 all-purpose yards.
For the season, Eells has scored four of the Cornjerkers' five TDs.
Eells was also one of the team's defensive leaders. He had eight tackles, two behind senior teammate Tim Hicks.
Coach Jeff Ohlemeyer's team faces one of its toughest three-game stretches in the upcoming weeks. After playing unbeaten Salt Fork in Catlin this week, the Cornjerkers have a home game against Bismarck-Henning and then play their final road game at Westville.
Freshman quarterback Wes Rush, filling in for injured starter Tate Compton, passed for 36 yards last week.