Danville, LeRoy, Milford/Cissna Park and St. Thomas More seek to control their own destiny.
Four area teams have assured themselves of a playoff berth: Bismarck-Henning, Cerro Gordo/DeLand-Weldon/Bement, Mahomet-Seymour and Monticello are 6-0.
Four other area schools enter Week 7 on the playoff bubble. With 3-3 records, teams from Danville, LeRoy, Milford/Cissna Park and St. Thomas More still control their own destiny but realize only a late-season winning streak will guarantee them of a postseason contest.
Six-win teams can rest easy on Selection Saturday. Five-win teams must await the official IHSA announcement and hope they’ve earned enough playoff points (based on the total number of wins by their nine opponents).
A look at the prospects for the area’s .500 teams:
The Vikings get two of their final three games at home, starting Friday against Champaign Central. The Week 8 road trip is to Normal Community, which was ranked sixth in last week’s Class 6A state poll. Urbana is the regular season finale for Danville, which is coming off a 34-31 win at Decatur MacArthur.
The current record means one thing to Danville coach B.J. Luke. “It’s one that makes you pay attention to detail and not look past anybody,” he said. “You’re in a situation where you need every game, and the rest of our schedule is pretty daunting. It’s not an easy way out.”
Senior quarterback Trent Sherfield, who suffered an ankle injury and sat out the second half at MacArthur, is expected to be back for the Vikings.
Luke said the first three Danville wins can be divided into three categories. “One was a tossup (Centennial), one we were probably the favorite (Eisenhower) and one we were the underdog (MacArthur),” he said. “I’m pleased how competitive we’ve been. There were some doubts in our community. We’ve been right there with top-level teams. I feel pretty good how the kids have responded.”
The cumulative record of the schools that have beaten the Vikings is 14-4.
Sherfield and senior Chris Collier have scored 154 of the team’s 194 points and have accounted for 2,323 of 2,583 yards (89.9 percent) when combining rushing, passing and kick returns.
Collier has two of the team’s four interceptions. Sherfield ranks sixth in tackling behind Latrey Reed (whose 51 tackles include 11 for loss), Tavion Boyd, Tyvon Cooper, Deonta Turner and Darrien Rose.
The Panthers have yet to put together back-to-back wins. LeRoy can Friday, when it plays at Ridgeview. Coach B.J. Zeleznik’s team has no more regular season home games. A trip to Flanagan in Week 8 is followed by a neutral-site Week 9 showdown (at Illinois State) against unbeaten and state-ranked (No. 10 in Class 2A) Tri-Valley.
“For 3-3 teams looking to go 6-3 or 5-4, every week is a playoff game,” Zeleznik said. “That’s our mind-set right now. Our next game is the biggest game of the year. That’s how you have to approach it.”
Looking ahead to Tri-Valley — a school LeRoy co-ops with in sports such as wrestling and cross-country — Zeleznik said “would be a costly mistake. We seem pretty focused.”
The Panthers got their running attack moving forward last week, and the coach said credit goes to an offensive line that features a tight end on each side.
“Our offensive line play is as good as it has been all year,” Zeleznik said. “The offensive line plays as a unit, and it’s such a chemistry-oriented concept, being able to communicate with the guys next to you and understand the defensive fronts and who needs to go where.”
The six players currently starting are not in the same places as when the season started. The lineup, from left to right, features Erik Woelfle, Austin Bossingham, Matt Bauer, Andrew Larson, Caleb Spencer, Ty Sandy and Brandon Woosley. Woelfle and Woosley are the tight ends.
Zeleznik expects to see opponents playing a spread offense the next two weeks.
“We usually do pretty well against a running offense, but shotgun or spread systems has been a challenge for us this year,” he said.
The Bearcats faced a brutal early-season schedule, playing Vermilion Valley Conference leaders Bismarck-Henning and Salt Fork (combined 11-1 record) in back-to-back games. Each week, MCP held a fourth-quarter lead. The Bearcats rebounded to hand Georgetown-Ridge Farm its first VVC loss last Friday.
“We had struggled to run the ball for two weeks,” coach Clint Schwartz said, “and we had to resort to throwing (32 attempts against Salt Fork and 20 against Westville). We wanted to show people we can run the ball and not develop into a throw-the-ball-around-the-field- because-we-have-to team.”
Against the Buffaloes, Devon Laubscher led an attack that picked up all 356 of its yards on the ground. MCP was 0-for-4 passing. The Bearcats averaged 6.4 yards per carry. The key blockers, from left to right, were Cooper Egolf, Andrew Allen, Jake Montgomery, Matt Birr, Ben Henrichs and tight end Jake Rogers.
MCP hosts 4-3 Attica (Ind.) on Saturday. The final two opponents, Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac and Hoopeston Area, are currently 1-9.
Schwartz believes all three wins are needed to qualify for the playoffs for the second year in a row.
“There are teams that get in with five wins, but we don’t want to think about that,” he said. “We want to take care of our own business.”
MCP lost junior linebacker Andrew Mussard with a season-ending ankle injury in Week 4.
“We have eight kids going both ways,” Schwartz said.
Safety Josh Marquez fills a role usually handled by middle linebackers.
“Josh is our leader on the field,” Schwartz said. “He gets in front of the huddle and calls the strengths for us. He’s one of those natural leaders.”
St. Thomas More
4 The Sabers are the only one of the area’s 3-3 teams coming off a loss. St. Joseph-Ogden rallied to beat St. Thomas More 27-21 on Friday. STM coach Dan Hennessey was pleased by the effort he saw in the homecoming game.
“We kept coming back, and it was one of the better games we’ve played this year,” Hennessey said. “This one we really showed what we are truly made of. We had a tough time stopping the run.”
The Sabers visit a 4-2 Paxton-Buckley-Loda team Friday before finishing against Iroquois West and Rantoul, teams that are currently 1-11. The schools St. Thomas More lost to have a combined 14-4 record.
“Our goal is to win all three,” Hennessey said. “We’re taking them one at a time, but we’re not even looking at winning two of three. We don’t want to leave it to chance and not have enough points to get in.”
Linebackers Chase Kangas and Cam Deedrich are two of the Sabers’ defensive leaders, and Hennessey said, “They have stepped up big time.” The defensive platoon will be strengthened by the return of Brett Roos, who sat out last week.
Hennessey, whose squad is seeking a seventh consecutive playoff appearance, feels good about his team.
“We are for real,” he said. “We have to put it all together. Offensively, we have sputtered a little bit. We need to readjust a couple of things, and we’ll be fine.”
Freshman Josh Parker is within 112 yards of reaching 1,000 rushing yards. Fullback Carson Kasbergen carried once against SJ-O but gained 44 yards. Senior quarterback Storm Joop has thrown for 730 yards this season and needs 528 to break the existing Twin City career passing record of 4,613 yards.