Week 4 prep football storylines: It's make or break time

Week 4 prep football storylines: It's make or break time

1 The Unity football program is in uncharted territory with Scott Hamilton in charge of the Rockets.Unity had never lost its first three games under Hamilton, who took over the program in 1994.

Until now. The Rockets (0-3) will try to end their slide 7 p.m. Friday at Illini Prairie Conference rival St. Joseph-Ogden (3-0).

"We've been through stretches and parts of seasons where we've had our backs to the wall," Hamilton said. "but it's never been at the beginning of a season and quite as glaring as it is right now."

The Rockets almost won their first game in Week 3, tying Prairie Central late in the fourth quarter before the visiting Hawks prevailed 34-26. This came after Unity lost 20-10 at Pontiac in Week 2 and lost 34-13 at Chillicothe Illinois Valley Central in Week 1.

"There's no doubt we started off with a tough part of our schedule with two big road games," Hamilton said. "Now, it's at a point where our kids need to maintain confidence."

A loss to the Spartans would put Unity — which has reached the playoffs 24 straight seasons — on the postseason bubble. Six wins ensures a playoff spot, but five-win teams could be left out of the mix.

Quarterback Evan Miebach, running back Carson Fisher and receivers Hunter Olson and Levi Williams have provided big plays at times. Playing a consistent four quarters is the main challenge now.

"I feel like once we put the finger over the one hole that's leaking, two more problem areas pop up," Hamilton said. "It's not a lack of effort on our kids' part, though. That's the encouraging thing. Our kids understand that there's only one way to get through this, and that's hard work. From that standpoint, they've done a good job, but we need to — really, really fast — start to reap the benefits of that."

2 One person who isn't overlooking Unity is Shawn Skinner.The third-year St. Joseph-Ogden coach is aiming for his first win over the Rockets. Unity has won its last three games against SJ-O, outscoring the Spartans 97-16 in that span.

"Don't be fooled by their record," Skinner said. "They're going to come in mad and give it everything they have. They would anyway because of the rivalry, but now their kids understand the severity of the situation they're in. We were already going to get their best. If it's possible to get better than their best, we'll get it."

SJ-O is only two wins away from playoff eligibility thanks to the program's first 3-0 start since 2015.

"We told our kids they should feel good about it," Skinner said. "On the flip side, we recognize we have a lot of room for improvement. Saying that, though, makes you feel pretty good realizing that we can do better."

3 Earning respect is an ongoing trend for the Hoopeston Area/Schlarman Academy/Armstrong-Potomac program.

But the Cornjerkers gained some in Week 3 after a 21-7 loss to Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin."Bismarck knew how to finish the game," HASAAP coach Trey Stille said, "and that's something that we are still learning to do."

The Cornjerkers (1-2) host Vermilion Valley Conference foe Oakwood (0-3) at 7 p.m. Friday for Hoopeston's homecoming game, a key game if HASAAP wants to reach the playoffs for the first time since 1993.

"To break a long playoff drought would be something to brag about for a lifetime," Stillesaid. "I'll be the first to be honest about this with my guys: right now we aren't a team, but rather a collection of individuals who just happen to live in close proximity to one another. Once we really come together, we can be great."