Football games with playoff implications will be held at four Vermilion Valley conference locations on Friday.
--At Westville, the annual Coal Bucket game between the Tigers and Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman will take place. Westville needs a win to assure itself of a playoff berth;
--At Bismarck, the surging Blue Devils play host to Schlarman. The scenario is simple for Bismarck-Henning. Win and there will be a postseason game. Lose and it’s time to collect the uniforms;
--At Catlin, Salt Fork meets Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac for a share of the VVC title. Both teams are in the playoffs, but the winner will earn a higher seeding and increase the likelihood of a first-round home game on either Oct. 30 or Oct. 31.
--At Milford, the Bearcats play neighboring rival Hoopeston Area after breaking into the state rankings for the first time (tied for No. 10 in Class 2A). A win by Milford/Cissna Park means it will be declared the conference’s official playoff representative (by virtue of wins over the only two schools it can be tied with, Salt Fork and O/A-P) and should assure the team of opening at home in the playoffs.
Kickoffs at each location will be 7 p.m.
Here’s a look back at Week 8 highlights and notes:
MILFORD/CISSNA PARK (7-1)
For the second week in a row, coach Nate Albaugh’s Bearcats scored all the points they would need — and all the points they would get — during a 27-point first half.
Quarterback Kristopher Evans set the tone with a 62-yard scoring run 19 seconds into the game.
“We did a lot of things right,” Albaugh said, “but I was most impressed with our kids’ ability to play solid defense.”
Early in the second half, O/A-P blocked a punt by the Bearcats and recovered near the red zone. The Milford/Cissna Park defense, however, prevented a score on that possession.
“Our kids responded with an outstanding defensive stand,” Albaugh said. “They put their heels in the ground and wouldn’t budge. Things like that we hadn’t seen in a big game since Salt Fork (Week 4).”
Middle linebacker Alex Kaeb had nine tackles, but Albaugh said credit should go to the defensive linemen, of whom he said, “they played probably the best game I’ve seen them play to date.”
The trio of senior Bryan Yergler and sophomores Jake McCann and Travis McKay “did their responsibilities and had several tackles for loss,” Albaugh said. “They (Comets) had difficulty blocking those three.”
Yergler led the Bearcats with 10 tackles. McKay had eight stops.
For the second straight week, Kyle Popham rushed for a career-high yardage total. He gained 158 yards on 14 carries. Kristopher Evans exceeded the 100-yard mark in passing for the third game in a row.
“He is turning into a heck of a player,” Albaugh said. “He is a very coachable young man, a dynamite kid and continues to impress week after week.”
Evans has also converted 31 of 34 extra-point attempts for the year. If he passes for 86 yards this week, Evans will hit the 1,000-yard mark.
Justin Flinkman remains the go-to receiver. He has 26 of the team’s 45 completions for the season and is averaging 25 yards per catch.
Albaugh said his team’s overall level of play last week was similar to when it upended Salt Fork’s state-ranked team.
“It’s a tossup between Oakwood and Salt Fork, which one we played the best,” he said.
The Bearcats want to end the regular season on a strong note and need a win over the Cornjerkers to assure themselves of a share of the VVC crown.
“We’re preparing the same this week as every week,” Albaugh said. “The benefit is it’s a big rivalry game.
“They’re not looking towards Halloween (and a first-round playoff game). They want to play against Hoopeston. It’s not a game we would want to forego and that helps keep us on task.”
HOOPESTON AREA (1-7)
The Cornjerkers had lost to Westville by an average of 39.6 points per game during the first five years of the Vermilion Valley Conference. Last week, Hoopeston Area dropped a 30-6 decision.
“Our effort was great,” Hoopeston Area coach Jeff Ohlemeyer said. “It’s unfortunate we couldn’t have gotten that effort earlier in the year.”
Hoopeston was shorthanded, especially in the secondary where freshmen Connor Cline and Tyler Martin made their first varsity starts. Martin had a six-tackle performance.
“This week, we should have some guys back, but both of them will see more playing time,” Ohlemeyer said.
Hoopeston gathered four Westville fumbles, another sign of the team’s progress.
“Any time someone puts the ball on the ground four times, you know you’re putting the pads on them,” Ohlemeyer said. “The intensity was there. You have to show up believing you can compete, and we’re finally at that point.”
Especially against Week 9 foe Milford.
“Two of the last three years, it has been settled by one point,” Ohlemeyer said.
Hoopeston won the 2007 game 42-41 and also outscored the Bearcats in 2006, 39-38.
“We hope we get the same kind of effort we got Friday,” Ohlemeyer said.
Cody Eells led the Cornjerkers in both rushing (56 yards) and receiving (51 yards) against Westville. Tate Compton completed 12 of 21 passes for 109 yards, marking the fifth 100-yard passing effort for Compton as a senior. He needs 72 yards in his finale to reach 1,000 for the season.
Eells had nine tackles and Robbie Irvin (who scored the lone TD) eight against the Tigers.
Irvin’s touchdown occurred in the final minute of the first half, cutting the Westville lead to 14-6. The momentum, however, didn’t stay with the Cornjerkers.
“They ran the kickoff back inside our 30 and scored (on a Matt Maser pass to Brendon Severado) as time expired,” Ohlemeyer said. “That took the wind out of our sails.”
The Blue Devils have been in playoff mode since Oct. 2. The day after losing to Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac, Bismarck-Henning realized it needed a three-game winning streak in order to reach the postseason.
Coach Mark Dodd’s team has completed two of the steps and will seek the clincher on Friday when it plays host to Schlarman.
“Since we had four losses, every game has been a playoff game and so far, they’ve been responding well to that,” Dodd said.
The Blue Devils are coming off what Dodd called, “a solid game,” when they defeated Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman 47-26 after trailing 18-14 in the third quarter. B-H ran more than twice as many plays as the Buffaloes (73 to 35) and accumulated 513 yards of total offense and 30 first downs.
Dodd cautions that the team’s goals have not yet been achieved.
“The pressure is not off,” he said. “We must stay focused, stay hungry. Schlarman played probably their best game last week. We’re focusing on Schlarman and we’ll worry about next week if we’re fortunate enough to win on Friday.”
Dodd has emphasized to his players that they need to look beyond Schlarman’s winless record to evaluate the challenge that awaits this week.
“It’s a credit to their staff that at 0-7 they were still playing hard and competing to win,” he said. “They played Salt Fork well.”
B-H’s Reed Collins scored six touchdowns against G-RF/C and Dodd noted, “four of them were over (holes opened by) Danny Golden and Josh Kessler.”
Collins gained 260 yards and Matt LeCleir rushed for 115. Michael Grant threw a touchdown pass (to Adam Baker) and also intercepted a pass.
Luke Thornsbrough forced two fourth-quarter fumbles, one of which he recovered, and Dodd said Dakota Patton and Alex Hahne were among the others who played well.
Hahne had two tackles for loss and leads the team with 12 for the season. Patton had a team-high eight tackles. Golden had six stops.
Seven seniors will be honored before their regular-season home-finale: Cameron Cunningham, Derek Davis, Dan Golden, Michael Grant, Cody Longest, Jonathan Rogers and Luke Thornsbrough.
Five of the seniors start on offense or defense and Rogers plays regularly on the special teams. Dodd said Cunningham “has been working in the rotation at defensive tackle the last two weeks and has stepped up pretty well.”
The Hilltoppers dropped a 26-6 decision to Salt Fork in a game in which the Storm’s lead was only 14-6 with less than 10 minutes to play in the fourth period.
“Defensively, it was probably our best game and offensively, we did some good things,” Schlarman coach Mike High said. “We were happy with the effort, but disappointed with the outcome.”
Heath Goodwin rushed for 100 yards and Skylar Dodge gained 63 on the ground against Salt Fork.
“The whole game, we were really competitive,” High said. “I didn’t see one person stand out, but everybody played well. We got five or six people on the ballcarrier.”
Schlarman has avoided the attrition which sometimes befalls struggling teams.
“We had 33 (players) and we’ve kept 33,” he said. “We have 30 coming back and hopefully we’ll get eight to 10 freshmen.”
High said a strong finish will “start to build momentum for next season.”
The defensive effort against Salt Fork resulted in containing the Storm’s top runner, Lance Hubbard, most of the game.
“He only had 32 yards until his last six carries and they switched formations and he got another 110,” High said. “If we’d played defense early in the year like we are now, we probably would have won about three games.”
The Hilltoppers’ tackling leaders against the Storm were Anthony Drake (10 tackles), Tyler Mangum (10), Kyle Golden (nine), Mike Seilhymer (eight), Dodge (seven) and Jordan Sheahan (seven).
High said even though the outcomes have been unchanged this season, the attitudes about Schlarman football are not the same.
“Even in defeat, you can earn respect,” he said, “and that’s what we’re fighting for right now.”
As for the season-finale, High said, “we’ll have to treat this like our playoff game. These seniors won’t get one. I’ve appealed to the fact that this is it (for football) for their life and they’d better play as hard as they can no matter the score or the situation.”
SALT FORK (7-1)
Coach Brian Plotner had a patchwork lineup last week against Schlarman and he said, “the kids were fairly resilient,” though he added, “we didn’t play with a great effort.”
Lineman Jake Manning missed the game after being injured the week before and another lineman, Aaron Taylor, sat out his first game with pneumonia. Lineman Matt Delbridge returned on a limited basis, but running back Brandon Dixon (ankle) was still sidelined.
“Their kids played hard and dictated tempo for the most part,” Plotner said. “We seemed a step slow and out of sorts.”
Despite the adversity, the coach said, “we had a lot of kids who had not been main-line players who stepped up and helped us out.”
Among them were Luke Delbridge, Trevor Hallett, Connor Plotner and Ryan Todd.
Plotner and linebacker Tony Marrow were the team’s top tacklers with 12 apiece.
“That’s probably not a good sign when a safety is in on that many tackles,” said Brian Plotner, Connor’s father. “Connor probably had the best game of his career.”
Todd, who returned to football this year after a two-year layoff, started at nosetackle and had eight stops.
“He did a solid job,” Brian Plotner said.
Jeremy Homan intercepted two passes, moving him into the team lead for the season with three.
The coach is uncertain how many of the players who’ve been sidelined will be on the field this week at Catlin against Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac.
“The big picture is to get everybody healthy and ready to go for the playoffs,” Brian Plotner said. “We’ll try and be diligent with those decisions. There are a lot of question marks.”
Plotner is pleased to have a meaningful game to conclude the regular season.
“It’s good to go into Week 10 after a game where you’ll have to play exceptionally well to have a chance to win,” he said. “This is a big game for both teams to gear up for the playoffs.
“It’s exciting for both schools to be a part of that.”
Lance Hubbard rushed for 144 yards and scored all 26 of the team’s points last week against Schlarman. Cody Davis gained 67 yards.
Hubbard also caught four of the team’s eight pass completions and had 43 yards receiving yards. For the season, he ranks fourth in the area in scoring (124 points) and is 12 points behind the leader (Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley’s Michael Romshek).
Coach Gary Denhart is taking a different approach to the Comets’ Week 9 game than he did for Week 8 when Milford/Cissna Park posted a 27-12 victory.
“In hindsight, our kids were nervous,” Denhart said. “We let the talk about winning conference and the playoffs affect us. They weren’t used to all of the attention and we froze.
“Last week, the kids were wound so tight, they couldn’t play. We are going to loosen up a little bit. We’re not talking about anything except Salt Fork. If anybody mentions the conference title or the playoffs, they’ve got to run, and I’m too old to run.”
Sophomore Ryan Strange put together his sixth consecutive 100-yard rushing game — which matches the number of games he has started in the backfield — and is within reach of the school’s single-season rushing record.
He has gained 1,300 yards on the ground, including 137 against the Bearcats. The rushing mark, set in 1988 by Jeff Peak, is 1,417 yards.
Strange is third in The News-Gazette area in rushing and is averaging 9.0 yards per carry.
The goal this week, Denhart said, is to end the regular season with a strong showing.
“The one thing we’ve talked about is playing our best, regardless of the outcome,” Denhart said. “We want to put together our best game and then Saturday, watch TV (the playoff pairings show) and wait for the results.”
The Comets hope to avoid the mistakes which plagued them last week. Two of the team’s three lost fumbles occurred on possessions after they’d moved inside the red zone.
For the third consecutive game, Arlen Kerst had the team’s best single-game tackling performance of the season. He was in on 15 stops against MCP. A week earlier, he had 14 tackles and the game before that, the junior had 13 stops.
Other O/A-P tackling leaders last week were Clay Smith (nine), John Garrett (eight) and Joseph Garrett (eight).
The recent edge in Coal Bucket games belongs to the Tigers, who have lost just once to Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman this decade (2002). However, the Buffaloes lead the all-time series between the schools, 45-33-9.
Westville became playoff-eligible last week with its 30-6 win against Hoopeston Area. It was the first time since Week 2 that the Tigers had their entire team together.
The team’s ragged play on the field, coach Guy Goodlove said, was a reflection of having a different varsity unit working out together the previous five weeks.
“You could tell we only had a week of practice together,” Goodlove said. “We had seven fumbles and a lot of penalties. I hope this second week of practice we get a lot of that ironed out and everything flows smoother.
“Good teams and good players don’t make those penalties. We have to get those corrected.”
Goodlove was most satisfied by the play of his defensive unit against the Cornjerkers.
“For the most part, we did a good job of wrapping up and tackling and playing solid defense,” he said.
Cody Pratt and Luke Shafer were each in on 10 tackles. Brendon Severado had nine stops and John Hoepner had seven. Severado, Mitchell Bryant and Brandon Pratt all intercepted passes.
Brandon Pratt and Bryant were returning after a five-game absence.
Brandon Pratt rushed for a game-high 158 yards. Matt Maser passed for 155 yards, with Ryan Blue hauling in three passes for 90 yards. Severado scored three TDs, raising his team-leading total to 13.
Goodlove believes Westville’s playoff point total will be insufficient to qualify the team for the playoffs, unless it reaches the automatic six-win mark. The team is only guaranteed of 35 points and, at most, will end with 37 if it loses this week.
“The playoffs are irrelevant if we don’t win,” Goodlove said. “We’ve got to win to get in.”
The Tigers have the potential, he said.
“If we eliminate penalties and turnovers, we can be the type of team we’re capable of being,” he said. “The problem starts with us.
“We realize the importance of what we’re not doing and how it affects us, but it has to translate out on the field.”
GEORGETOWN-RIDGE FARM/CHRISMAN (3-5)
The Buffaloes’ motivation is obvious: Play the spoiler’s role.
The playoffs are out of reach for the team, but they can have a say whether their final-game opponent gets to continue its season.
Coach Jason Baccadutre expects no lack of enthusiasm surrounding the game at Westville.
“It’s a crazy game in terms of energy in the crowd,” Baccadutre said. “It’s always a playoff atmosphere. This is the last hurrah for our seniors. We have the potential of maybe knocking Westville out of the playoffs.”
Last week’s 47-26 loss to Bismarck-Henning marked the third game G-RF/C lost after holding a second-half lead. In two of its wins, the squad had rallied to overcome a second-half deficit.
“It’s like a broken record,” Baccadutre said. “I’m still waiting for the kids to decide to play four quarters. At the beginning of the season, we were finding a way at the end of the fourth quarter to pull out the victory.”
Two Buffaloes are within reach of milestones this week. Sophomore quarterback Ryan Dieu needs 98 yards passing to reach 1,000 for the season. Senior Alex Pratt is within two points of reaching 100 for the year and needs 153 rushing yards for 1,000.
Tackling leaders last week were Korie Vire (13), A.J. Pitmon (11), Brandon Herrin (10) and Tanner Kelley (nine).
The overall performance, Baccadutre said, showed encouraging signs.
“There were a lot of bright spots, some big hits as a team,” he said. “We just have to play all four quarters.”
There’s no better time to start, he said, than in the Coal Bucket game.
“The town loves the Coal Bucket,” Baccadutre said. “They’ll get excited and will be ready.”