CHAMPAIGN – Two weeks after beating Bloomington in what they viewed as a program-defining victory, Champaign Central's Maroons are in soul-searching mode.
The Maroons' surprisingly lopsided 28-0 homecoming defeat against Mattoon, ranked fifth in Class 5A, left them 4-3 and without much margin for error to gain a playoff berth.
Central must win at least one of its final two games – at home against Danville and at Centennial – to be in position to earn a bid. Two wins would clinch one.
The first task, however, is to find the passion they somehow lost since that win against Bloomington.
Central had an unimpressive 14-6 victory last week against a 1-6 Decatur MacArthur team. On Friday, the Maroons were outplayed on both sides of the ball for the full 48 minutes and displayed little sense of urgency in the process.
"I don't know where the fire went," Central defensive back Steve Lessaris said.
Central fell behind 14-0 in the second quarter, failed to sustain offensive drives and gave up a batch of big plays in the passing game.
"We basically laid an egg tonight," Central coach Dave Jacobs said. "I'm embarrassed as a coach. Bottom line, if they're not ready to play, it's on me. I've got to do a better job of finding a way to get them going."
The odd part is that the Maroons played with great energy in their first five games. Weeks 6 and 7 brought a few injuries and some ineligible players, but that doesn't account for the lack of focus.
"I don't understand. There's no fire," Jacobs said. "We had it earlier, and we've got kids that can flat-out play. This is not a game that you can play without emotion, especially when you're playing good teams."
Mattoon's passing game (244 yards from quarterback Jeremy Jordan) helped the Green Wave score the most points against Central this season. Tight end Scott Navel had seven catches for 141 yards.
The Central offense couldn't find consistency, roaming into Mattoon territory on 7 of 9 possessions but coming up empty every time.
"They're a well-disciplined team. They didn't make mistakes, and we did," Lessaris said. "That's what it came down to."
Unfortunately for Central, there is little time to stew. If the Maroons stumble against 4-3 Danville next week, the Week 9 Battle of Champaign will be an anxiety-filled evening.
"Last week we didn't come out with any fire at all," Lessaris said. "This week's practice was very encouraging, but we've just got to find it. We just have to figure out who we are right now."