An elimination game and the opportunity for a team to clinch at least a tie for the league championship are among the featured Vermilion Valley Conference football games the eighth week of the high school season.
At Georgetown, the Buffaloes will play their Senior Night game against Bismarck-Henning in a showdown between 3-4 schools. The loser will be out of contention for the playoffs as well as for a .500 season.
The winner will remain playoff eligible. Both B-H and Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman should have sufficient playoff points to be selected for the postseason, if they reach the five-win mark.
Also on Friday, Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac has a home game against Milford/Cissna Park. A win for the Comets (5-0 in league play) would clinch no worse than a share of the VVC title. With a win, MCP (4-1 in league play) could move into a tie for first with O/A-P and possibly Salt Fork, which will try to improve to 5-1 in conference action in its game at Schlarman.
In the other Week 8 matchup, Westville will seek to win its fifth game and to become playoff eligible when it travels to Hoopeston Area for the Cornjerkers’ Senior Night contest. Westville’s playoff point total will be lower than both Bismarck-Henning’s and Georgetown-Ridge Farm’s, and the Tigers would likely need not only a win this week, but also a victory in their regular-season finale (Coal Bucket game at home vs. G-RF/C) to assure themselves of a postseason berth.
Kickoffs at all VVC locations on Friday are scheduled for 7 p.m.
A look back to some Week 7 highlights from the conference:
Tackling statistics don’t reveal the value of the Comets’ interior linemen, James Haaksma and Derek Wilder, in O/A-P’s 31-26 triumph last week at Westville.
Haaksma was credited with two tackles and Wilder had none against the Tigers. Two teammates who rotated in at the positions, Jacob McGlaughlin and Brad Miller, also did not have a tackle.
“They didn’t make many tackles, but they plugged the gaps and kept people off of our linebackers,” coach Gary Denhart said. “They’ve done it four weeks in a row.
“The whole theme of the year is ‘unselfish.’ They did their jobs and it’s contagious.”
Linebackers John Garrett and Arlen Kerst were two of three Comets in double figures with tackles. Kerst had 14 and Garrett had 10. The team-leader was Joseph Garrett with 15 tackles.
For the fourth game in succession, sophomore tailback Ryan Strange gained at least 200 yards rushing.
Strange didn’t move into a starting role on offense until Week 3, when the VVC started its league games.
“Fans ask why he didn’t play (much) the first two games,” Denhart said. “He’s a sophomore and he wasn’t ready. I also think holding him back has made him a little more determined.”
Against five VVC opponents, Strange has rushed for 1,076 yards and is averaging 9.8 yards per attempt.
“He is breaking some tackles, but on the other hand, he is breaking them 3 or 4 yards downfield,” Denhart said. “It’s a combination of a good line getting him downfield and a good running back. He is doing a little extra.”
Kerst (who has rushed for 518 yards this season) “had some big runs,” against Westville, Denhart said.
This week, O/A-P will face a similar challenge to the past two weeks.
“We had an emotional win against Bismarck (39-33 on Oct. 2), for homecoming and we bounce back and beat Westville in a close game,” Denhart said. “The kids rose to the occasion.”
The intensity will need to remain high this week as two programs which received votes in this week’s state polls will battle. O/A-P was rated 12th in Class 3A and MCP was ranked in a tie for 11th in Class 2A.
“I look at them and there are a lot of things you have to worry about,” Denhart said. “They are a sound team.”
MILFORD/CISSNA PARK (6-1)
Last week was a good one for the Bearcats. Second-year head coach Nate Albaugh was the Chicago Bears’ recipient of the State Coach of the Week award on Thursday and, a day later, his squad clinched its first playoff berth in 12 years.
“The kids looked really good,” Albaugh said. “They started to execute in a way we haven’t seen them execute before.”
More than 80 percent of MCP’s plays in a 49-14 triumph over Schlarman were running plays, but Albaugh said, “when we throw, we seem to make it count.”
Kristopher Evans attempted seven passes, completed four and two resulted in touchdowns.
Justin Flinkman, who is averaging 31.8 yards per catch in five VVC games (totaling 508 yards), was on the receiving end of both TDs.
A Cissna Park student, he is one of the numerous first-year varsity players with the team.
“We didn’t realize what kind of deep threat he was,” Albaugh said. “Against Bismarck (Week 3), we learned out of necessity when we needed to go deep.
“Now, it’s a well-known fact: he can hurt you deep. He has made some big-time catches.”
Albaugh doesn’t generally see the moves that enables Flinkman to get open.
“When we call a play, I’m watching our (pass) protection and by the time I look downfield, he is open,” Albaugh said. “He is a heck of a receiver. He has big-play potential.”
The coach is not opposed to making lineup changes, even in the midst of the program’s best season in more than a decade.
Sophomore Jake Gullquist received his first appreciable playing time last week at linebacker and more than doubled his season tackling totals with five stops.
“He did enough to impress us that there’s the possibility of him starting Friday (at O/A-P),” Albaugh said. “We appreciated the effort he was putting in on special teams and when he got in, he was making plays.”
He tells his athletes there’s nothing like proving you can do the job in the heat of battle.
“We need to know when a play comes your way, you can make it,” Albaugh said.
Alex Kaeb (nine), Evans (seven) and Gullquist were MCP’s tackling leaders against the Hilltoppers.
“Kaeb had a great game,” Albaugh said.
Kyle Evans, who scored three TDs last week for the second straight game, and Brandon Hasselbring are still nursing ankle injuries, but Albaugh expects them to be on the field against the Comets.
“We’re so excited for this game,” Albaugh said. “We have a conference championship on our mind and we feel it is a goal we can attain.”
The Blue Devils face the second of three must-win games in a row in order to stay in contention for a playoff berth. In the first game of the series, B-H handled Hoopeston Area 51-6 in what head coach Mark Dodd called, “a very well-played game by us.”
The Blue Devils had no turnovers.
The team scored seven TDs and each was by a different squad member, including the first varsity one for junior Matt LeCleir, who has rushed for 333 yards this season.
”Matt really shined with 72 yards on 11 carries,” Dodd said.
Early in the game, played on a muddy field, Dodd said it became apparent he needed to alternate his ballcarriers.
“I had to rotate kids to get them toweled off,” he said. “That’s why we used so many running backs in the first half.”
Overall, B-H had 10 players who combined to take the teams’ 50 handoffs on running plays. Reed Collins (118 yards rushing) had his second straight 100-yard outing.
Quarterback Michael Grant completed four passes and two went for TDs. He passed for a season-high 103 yards.
“Michael changed plays when we needed to get out of something bad and he put us in something good,” Dodd said.
Ross Darby (10 tackles) and Josh Kessler (eight) led the Blue Devils’ defensive charge. Kyle Lamm intercepted a pass.
Another player who caught Dodd’s eye was junior Alex Hahne, who went in on the defensive line after Branden Smith was injured in the second game.
Hahne had five tackles, including three sacks.
“He had a solid game and has really progressed into a good player,” Dodd said. “He has been really consistent.”
Hahne has had at least five tackles in all but one of the team’s games.
B-H’s Ian Park kicked 7 of 7 extra points last week and is the area scoring leader among kickers. He has booted 32 points, four more than MCP’s Kristopher Evans.
Dodd recognizes how even things are for B-H and this week’s opponent, Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman.
“We’re very similar,” he said. “We have the same records. We’re both playing a lot of young kids and there’s pressure on both of us. It’s do-or-die for them, too.”
GEORGETOWN-RIDGE FARM/CHRISMAN (3-4)
Coach Jason Baccadutre said his team lost to a stronger opponent last week in dropping a 42-12 decision to Salt Fork.
“The difference I saw, generally speaking, is that they were a lot stronger than we were,” Baccadutre said. “They handled us up front. We’ve got to get into the weight room.”
He also sensed a mindset with the Storm that comes from putting nearly a decade of successful seasons back-to-back.
“They came into the game with the mentality that they will win because they’ve been winning,” Baccadutre said, “We are still young and inexperienced in some spots, but there’s where we want to be in the not-too-distant future.”
Salt Fork held the Buffaloes to 85 yards passing and 74 yards rushing. Between receiving and rushing, Korie Vire had 96 yards and two TDs and Alex Pratt accumulated 65 yards.
“They did a nice job of containing Pratt and Korie Vire had a heck of a game,” Baccadutre said.
Vire has scored TDs in four of his last five games.
The Buffaloes’ top tacklers against Salt Fork were Pratt (15), Kyle Greene (10), Brandon Herrin (10) and Vire (nine).
Baccadutre believes there could be a contrast of styles in Friday’s home finale against the Blue Devils.
“They like to grind it out and we have drives that last under a minute sometimes,” he said. “It should be exciting.”
The coach is looking for a game where his squad eliminates, or at least reduces, its mistakes.
“If you can stop the penalties and stop beating yourself and make the other team beat you, most of the time you will be competitive,” he said.
SALT FORK (6-1)
The Storm made adjustments as Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman countered various moves last week in Salt Fork’s 42-12 win.
“Cody (Davis) kind of carried us in the first half,” head coach Brian Plotner said. “Then Lance (Hubbard) picked it up in the second half.”
Davis had the majority of his season-high 98 yards rushing before intermission and Hubbard responded by reaching the end zone twice after the break and gaining most of his 122 yards on the ground.
“They played us the way I wound have played us,” Plotner said. “They had a five- or six-man front throughout. We were fortunate to get some creases early and our offensive line had a huge hand in giving those guys somewhere to run.”
With the injured Brandon Dixons idled, sophomore Grant Ford responded with a 49-yard rushing performance and scored a touchdown in his second straight varsity game.
Quarterback Joe Pratt didn’t need to pass (attempting three) and gained 12 yards on his one completion to Rileigh Darnell, who moved into the team-lead for interceptions by picking off his third.
Plotner said there’s no lack of motivation for his team as it travels to Schlarman to be the Hilltoppers’ Senior Night opponent.
“In two weeks, we will be practicing for a playoff opponent and we need to start gearing up,” Plotner said. “I told the kids there’s a huge difference in six wins and seven wins. With seven wins, you get a better playoff seed and are one step closer to a having a home playoff game.”
Salt Fork closes the regular season at Catlin against Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac — currently the VVC’s only unbeaten team in conference action — but Plotner cautioned his team about not looking ahead.
“Week 9 won’t mean anything if we don’t take care of business in Week 8,” he said. “I hope we got their attention.”
The team’s tackling leaders against the Buffaloes were Tylre Ball, Tony Marrow and David Sacre, all with 11 stops. Clay Manning had nine tackles.
Salt Fork will be without one of its two-year, two-way starting linemen this week. Jake Manning suffered bone chips in his ankle and Plotner said, “that’s certainly a huge loss for us.”
As yet, there is no timetable on Jake Manning’s return, but Plotner said, “He is hopeful he will be back.”
In his place, Trevor Hallett will start on the offensive line. Defensively, Nevin Grant — who already plays part-time at end — “will slide into that spot,” according to Plotner.
Matt Delbridge, a two-way starter sidelined in Week 4 with a strained MCL, has been cleared to play this week, but Plotner said Dixon (ankle) is “doubtful.”
Coach Mike High has seen an unwelcome reversal in his team.
“Early in the year, the offense was moving the ball, but we couldn’t stop anybody,” he said. “The defense was letting us down.”
As the season has progressed, High said, “our run defense has gotten a lot better,” but other areas have declined. “Our offense has struggled as we’ve taken away practice time to work on defense.”
The Hilltoppers had six turnovers in last week’s 49-14 loss to Milford/Cissna Park.
What High is seeking is for squad members to make a push to get the program headed in a different direction.
“Now is the time for them to step up and decide, ‘I’ve had enough. We’re not going to lose any more.’” High said. “I need someone among the players to assert themselves and take it forward.
“I want them to take ownership of the team. The players have to be the ones to decide they want to change the culture. We’ve got the kids who can do it.”
The differences in his team and Salt Fork’s are due to longevity of the coaching staffs.
“We’re in year 1 and Salt Fork has run that system for 15 or 16 years,” High said. “They have the program humming and it feeds itself. I tell our kids, we’re 15 years behind them.”
Progress, High said, can occur even if wins on the field are few and far between.
“The No. 1 thing you have to do in the first year is close the gap,” High said.
Thus far, Schlarman has lost to five opponents that it also lost to in 2008. In three of those setbacks, the 2009 deficits were not as great, including two games were the advances were major.
Schlarman lost by 53 points last year to O/A-P and by 40 points last year to G-RF/C. This fall, the margins were 26 and six points, respectively.
“People that are long-time Schlarman observers say the difference is like night and day, but it’s not translating into any wins,” High said. “At some point, you have to get sick and tired of losing. I heard a coach say once, ‘Losing has to become painful before the winning starts.’”
One highlight for the Hilltoppers is quarterback Heath Goodwin, who has led the team in rushing in six of seven games. He gained 96 yards last week before missing the fourth quarter with a sore knee.
His replacement was Blake Watson, who had caught two passes before he moved to quarterback. Once the change took place, Watson hooked up with Kyle Golden on a 29-yard pass play. Watson also rushed for 30 yards.
Defensively, tackling leaders were Anthony Drake (11), Skylar Dodge (nine), Tyler Mangum (eight) and Golden (eight).
For the first time since the season’s second game, the Tigers enter a game at full strength. Players who have served a five-game disciplinary suspension will return, including Brandon Pratt who opened the season with 249 yards rushing in two games.
What the past five weeks has done is develop depth and give coach Guy Goodlove numbers players in whom he has confidence.
“The kids who filled in did a great job and got valuable experience,” Goodlove said. “We really saw improvement out of them. We’re very happy.”
Among those who took advantage of their opportunities when they received playing time were Zach Waclaw, Trae Ford, Taylor Free, Brett Hayes and Ryan Pinter.
“We won a JV game Monday and those kids played the best they’d played all year,” Goodlove said. “They did a fantastic job.”
They won’t necessarily be forgotten in the season’s final games.
“They have proven they can play and I wouldn’t hesitate to call their number again,” Goodlove said.
Goodlove figures Westville has “our backs against the wall,” in an effort to secure a sixth successive playoff spot.
“We’re backed into a corner and have to finish strong to have a chance,” Goodlove said. “We don’t think 5-4 (record) will get us in. We’re needing to win out and we are capable of doing that.”
The Tigers are trying to rebound from their 31-26 loss to O/A-P. In that game, Matt Maser completed a season-high 11 passes. Brendon Severado hauled in seven of the completions and between running and receiving, totaled 211 yards and scored all four of the Westville TDs. Maser passed for 177 yards.
Defensively, John Hoepner had 10 tackles. Maser had six stops, as did Bryan Miller.
As Goodlove evaluates the Tigers’ Week 8 foe, he doesn’t view Hoopeston Area as a 1-6 team.
“What impresses me about them is that they are kids who love football and enjoy being out there,” he said. “I don’t see any quit in any of them. They are fighting until the last horn blows.
“They are always around the football and when someone makes a tackle, it’s not one guy, but four or five. They do some things very well. This isn’t going to be a pushover.”
HOOPESTON AREA (1-6)
The Cornjerkers took themselves out of contention in a 51-6 loss to Bismarck-Henning by turning the ball over on three consecutive possessions to start the second half. B-H led 23-6 at the break in a game where neither team scored a touchdown until the second period.
Senior quarterback Tate Compton had his most productive game, completing 16 of 19 attempts. He passed for 153 yards.
“Especially in weather like it was, he really stepped up,” Hoopeston Area coach Jeff Ohlemeyer said. “We’re very pleased with where the passing game is at. Now, we’ve got to get the running game on track.”
Cody Eells hauled in seven receptions. Jason Leigh and Andrew Vaughn each had four receptions.
After sacks were included, the running game netted 3 total yards.
“We’re trying to do what we can to stay positive,” Ohlemeyer said.
It’s not a stretch, however, to see improvement. With just seven seniors playing, many of the sophomores on varsity are also seeing action on the school’s underclassmen teams.
The junior varsity record is 5-1 with Ohlemeyer noting the loss was “to Salt Fork in the last minute.”
The freshmen squad has won two of three games.
“The attitude is very optimistic,” Ohlemeyer said. “With the exception of a couple games, we’ve seen improvement at all levels.”
Ohlemeyer credited his current seniors with “providing great leadership,” and added, “that will pay dividends down the road.”
One senior who may miss his home finale is Zack Judy, who has been hampered by hip and knee injuries. Ohlemeyer said his secondary is so depleted that Compton may get the call.
“We try to keep him off special teams and defense to focus on running the offense,” he said, “but he may start at free safety.”
Last week’s tackling leaders were Eells (12), Robbie Irvin (12), Leigh (eight) and Matt Watson (eight).