All wins are nice, Salt Fork football coach Brian Plotner said, but last week's 53-12 win over Hoopeston Area was special.
Besides officially clinching a playoff berth for the unbeaten (6-0) Storm, the triumph was a tribute to the Storm's special teams unit.
"We had a couple of kickoff returns and punt returns that gave us good field position," Plotner said. "Our special teams coaches have done a good job of being able to implement some things to give us an advantage in most games."
Chris Wills and Lance Hubbard were two of the noteworthy return specialists against the Cornjerkers, but the praise goes beyond the runners.
"Our blockers have been very good at setting up those returns," Plotner said, "and on our coverage teams, we've had some kids who've been consistent all year."
For the second consecutive week, Salt Fork junior Rileigh Darnell intercepted two passes. The picks give him four overall and a tie for first among area athletes.
"Him and (Joe) Pratt have been solid at the cornerback positions," Plotner said.
Offensively, 10 squad members had rushing attempts, including senior Chet Moreland who reached the end zone on three of his six carries.
Salt Fork scored 33 first-quarter points, including one TD on an interception return by Darnell.
"One of our goals was to come out and play well early," Plotner said, "and they certainly accomplished that."
While Moreland and Matt Ford showed they have recovered from injuries that limited their action in recent weeks, sophomore backup halfback Drew York suffered a season-ending injury.
York had started the previous two games, but came in as a reserve last week and scored his first prep touchdown on a 12-yard first-quarter run.
"It was his best play of the season," Plotner said.
York was tackled at the end zone and suffered a torn medial collateral ligament.
Salt Fork plays at Georgetown-Ridge Farm on Friday. The Buffaloes, along with the Westville-Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac winner would move into a first-place tie with Salt Fork in the Vermilion Valley Conference if the Storm loses.
"We've told the kids this is a team playing its best football and a team with a ton of talent at the skill positions," Plotner said.
The Buffaloes pulled out a one-point win, 36-35 last week against Milford, in a memorable game for coach Jason Baccadutre.
"I don't know if I've coached in a more exciting game," Baccadutre said.
Milford's Kyle Evans broke a 28-28 tie on a touchdown with 40 seconds remaining.
The Buffaloes, Baccadutre said, "weren't really panicked."
G-RF had to rally with starting quarterback Robert Parker sidelined due to a dislocated thumb. Chase Vire, who had a TD reception and a rushing TD, shifted to the position where he started the year and marched the team downfield.
Baccadutre wasn't even taking the time to send in a messenger with plays.
"I told the kids, I'd yell out plays," he said.
Vire hit three different receivers: his freshman brother Korie, Aaron Williams, who made a one-handed snag, and then Alex Pratt in the corner of the end zone with :07 to play.
Vire completed all five of his passes for 59 yards. Parker, who is expected to play this week, was 12 for 18 for 134 yards.
The late score brought G-RF to within a 35-34 score. G-RF has converted just one extra-point kick all season, so Baccadutre gambled on the win and went for a two-point conversion.
He called for a play nearly identical to the one where Vire connected with Pratt for the TD.
"We rolled Chase to the right on a similar play, but we gave him the run-pass option," Baccadutre said.
Vire spotted Pratt in the end zone and tossed the winning conversion to him.
Pratt, who had his first 100-yard rushing game of the season (138 yards on 20 carries) and a team-high 11 tackles, ended the game moments later, intercepting a Milford pass.
It was the second pass he picked off in the game.
"We finally played four quarters," Baccadutre said. "Everyone did something. When we needed a big play, someone would step up and make it.
"That was the difference in the game."
Junior Brandon Herrin totaled nine tackles against the Bearcats, including one TD-saving stop in the fourth period.
G-RF will play host to Salt Fork on Friday in its homecoming game. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
The Blue Devils snapped their season-long losing streak, edging Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac 28-27 before a homecoming crowd last week in Bismarck.
"Our kids played with a lot of energy and a lot of passion," B-H coach Mark Dodd said.
The victory was possible, Dodd said, because of his team's ability to contain the opposing ball carriers. The Comets were held to 128 total yards rushing. In three previous games, O/A-P's Brady Leeman had exceeded that total himself.
"It started against Salt Fork (in Week 5)," Dodd said. "We did some very good things. I was pleased with our improvements in defending the run.
"That was a pretty good effort."
Sophomore Dakota Patton had 14 tackles and freshman Reed Collins had 11 to spark B-H's defensive effort.
A defensive end, Patton had what Dodd called, "by far his best game." Collins, a linebacker, also had a quarterback sack and forced a fumble, which sophomore Ross Darby recovered.
Dodd expects the defense to continue improving.
"At one time, we had two seniors, three freshmen and the rest sophomores out there," he said.
The teams were tied, 7-7, at halftime but senior Brian Clapp returned the second-half kickoff 91 yards for a TD. B-H never trailed again.
"That was our first big play of the year," Dodd said. "Getting something like that was key for us."
B-H will try to continue its winning ways this week, traveling to Hoopeston Area on Friday.
"We'll have to see if we can handle a little bit of success," Dodd said. "We'll have to make sure we play with that same intensity."
The Blue Devils could be without sophomore Matt LeCleir, a starting strong safety and backup fullback. He suffered a knee injury against the Comets.
Juniors Cody Eells and Andrew Vaughn caught touchdown passes last week against Salt Fork. Eells had previously reached the end zone via a rushing TD and a kickoff return.
He has five of the team's seven TDs this season. Eells has caught passes in all of the Cornjerkers' games.
Hoopeston Area is 0-6.
The team's defensive leaders against Salt Fork were freshman Terrance Poke (seven tackles), senior Andrew Columga (six and sophomore Tyler Selsor (five).
The Tigers had a 100-yard rusher (sophomore Brandon Pratt), a 100-yard passer (sophomore Matt Maser) and a 100-yard receiver (senior Alex McMahon) in last week's 41-6 victory over Schlarman.
McMahon more than doubled his season's totals for receiving (106 yards) by turning his four receptions into gains of 160 yards and three TDs.
Coach Guy Goodlove said a strong aerial attack means more than the ability to catch passes.
"We want to make something happen after we catch the ball," he said. "We want to pick up more positive yards and we were able to do that last Friday."
In the team's sixth contest, McMahon became the sixth squad member to be the team's top receiver for a game.
"He has the athletic ability to make things happen," Goodlove said. "He did an excellent job of running routes, catching the ball and getting yards after the catch.
"He's one of the faster kids around and there's not anyone in our conference who can drag him down from behind."
Other single-game receiving leaders for the Tigers were Maser, Ryan Blue, Chris Hathaway, Pratt and Tyler Ritchie.
"We have a good corps of receivers," Goodlove said.
Westville (4-2) travels to Oakwood for a Friday game where it can become playoff-eligible with a victory.
That the Comets are coming off a loss compounds the degree of difficulty for the Tigers.
"I'm sure they will be a lot mad about their loss and looking to take it out on us," Goodlove said. "We'll have to step up and meet the challenge."
Defensively, several Tigers have emerged as mainstays in recent games.
"Andrew Lovejoy (tackle) keeps getting better and better," Goodlove said. "He didn't get a lot of playing time last year, but has become a kid we depend on on Friday nights.
"Ryan Blue (cornerback) has been one of those kids that we said for us to be successful had to come through and he has been able to do that," Goodlove said. "He practices hard and wants to be good."
Blue had an interception last week to go with four tackles. Dusty Zaayer (13 tackles) and Hathaway (seven) led the defensive effort against Schlarman.
The record shows the Comets are 3-3 team, but coach Gary Denhart realizes his team is much closer to being much better.
O/A-P has two one-point losses and were beaten by Clifton Central (5-1) in a game which was tied 7-7 in the final 3 minutes of the first half.
The Comets' 28-27 loss last week to Bismarck-Henning came in a game where the team stormed back and scored twice in the final 2:18.
"When the chips were down, we moved the length of the field," Denhart said.
The final drive covered 97 yards and ended with J Sutton hauling in a 74-yard scoring strike from Taylor Walsh.
Walsh had his best passing game, throwing for 212 yards.
Denhart was pleased to see his team shine in that part of the offense.
"We never did run the ball well against them," he said.
The Comets have their backs against the wall in their bid to return to the playoffs. Besides playing Westville this week, the team will end the regular season against still-unbeaten Salt Fork.
"We've had glimpses of showing some character," Denhart said, "the second half against Georgetown, the final 2 minutes against Bismarck.
"That has to be an all-out effort this week. We're in a hole and there has to be some emotion."
O/A-P's Brady Leeman converted 3 of 4 kicks from a makeshift block last week after the team left its kicking tee at home.
"Matt Sabin, our trainer from Carle (Clinic), took four rolls of tape, laid them flat and taped them together," Denhart said, "and the referee said it was OK."
For the year, Leeman has hit 20 extra-point conversions.
"He has been a very reliable kicker for three years," Denhart said.
Sutton (10 tackles), John Garrett (nine) and Corey Pankow (seven) were the defensive leaders at B-H.
The Bearcats are still mathematically alive for a playoff berth, but need to win their final three games to even be in position for selection.
Two of those games are on the road, starting with Friday's game at Schlarman's Drummy Field.
The team's playoff points (total number of victories by its nine opponents) may not be sufficient to earn a playoff spot even if the Bearcats (2-4) are able to finish the season 5-4.
That's not a concern for first-year head coach Nate Albaugh.
"All we can do is try to win the rest of our games and give ourselves a chance," Albaugh said. "You never know."
What he knows for certain is that his team didn't play well last week in absorbing a one-point loss at home to G-RF.
"We didn't see many positives," Albaugh said. "We played about as bad of a game as we could have played."
Rushing leader Kyle Evans scored four of the Bearcats' five TDs.
Albaugh has spent part of this week re-evaluating. His focus is not just on his players.
"I'm trying to see things I can do better to put the kids in better situations so they don't make as many mistakes," he said.
Trevor Lucht, who has been battling an ankle ailment, was limited to offense-only last week. The quarterback's status for this week has not been determined. If he sits out, Kristopher Evans and Ryan Kunce will share the signalcalling.
Seniors Sean Dawson and Michael Bell were Milford' top tacklers last week, finishing with eight stops apiece.
The Hilltoppers (1-5) will play host to Milford in their annual homecoming game.
"I hope that means a little more to the kids," head coach Jay Willaman said.
He wants to avoid a repeat of last week's start when Westville scored twice before the game was 2 minutes old to build a 13-0 lead.
"We did very well on first and second downs," Willaman said. "We allowed them to make big plays at inopportune times. We had them third-and-15 and they'd come up with first downs.
"That's one of those things you can fix."
Overall, Willaman said the team's level of play in Week 6 showed "a minor step forward. It was a hard-fought game. We had some hitters."
Senior Vinnie Miller was Schlarman's offensive catalyst against the Tigers. His combined rushing and receiving yards were 107.
Though Schlarman's program is struggling to become competitive, Willaman can point to Westville's team to show how quickly things can turn around.
Six years ago, Westville completed a 1-8 season and a two-year record of 1-17. Now, the school is coming off back-to-back state championship game appearances.
"For our younger kids, it's important for them to see Westville and Salt Fork and understand what our goal is.
"That's the bar we want to get to. We stress every week because they are in the weight room and doing the little things is why they are where they are on Fridays. They know how to win. That's the level we're trying to get to."
Schlarman's top tacklers against Westville were Anthony Drake (16), Steven Kutz (11) and Miller (10).
Willaman said his team matches up well to Milford in some respects.
"Size-wise, they are one of the teams I've seen where we're pretty equivalent," he said. "If we play like we did against Hoopeston (in Week 5), it will be a good football game."