Week 11 prep football storylines: Running at full speed

Week 11 prep football storylines: Running at full speed

1 Paxton-Buckley-Loda's defense had played relatively well this season.

The Panthers posted a shutout in Week 3 during a 35-0 win against Iroquois West. They only allowed one touchdown during a 26-8 win at Georgetown-Ridge Farm, an eventual playoff team, in Week 2. And PBL displayed a strong showing during a 49-7 win at Momence in Week 5.

But the Panthers possibly saved their best performance for the most crucial game of the season. PBL won handily, 33-6 at Vandalia, this past Saturday during the first round of the Class 3A playoffs. The lone touchdown the Panthers yielded happened in the final minute of the fourth quarter, with the outcome well in hand.

"We did a wonderful job on defense," PBL coach Jeff Graham said. "We took care of our own house and played physical."

The trend will need to continue at 2 p.m. Saturday when the 10th-seeded Panthers (7-3) host No. 2 Carlinville (10-0) in a 3A second-round playoff game. The Cavaliers average 50.4 points per game and defeated East Alton-Wood River 47-8 last Saturday in their playoff opener.

Carlinville counts on senior quarterback Jarret Easterday (137 of 184 for 2,418 passing yards, 35 touchdowns, two interceptions) to move its high-octane offense. Senior receivers Kyle Dixon (1,069 receiving yards, 15 TDs) and Jake Ambuel (501 receiving yards, 12 TDs) are Easterday's favorite targets.

"It's very important this week that we continue executing well," Graham said. "Carlinville does a lot of different things we'll have to contend with."

PBL has intercepted 13 passes this season, with junior Tristan Hauersperger nabbing a team-high three.

Austin Gooden leads PBL with 68 tackles, while contributions from senior Andrew Swanson, junior Dalton Busboom and senior Jake Rich, among others, are key reasons why the Panthers' defense is playing well at an opportune time.

"We've moved some guys around a little bit the last couple weeks and made a few adjustments," Graham said. "It's worked out well."

2 Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin has faced 25 different teams in 31 playoff games during its football history.

The Blue Devils will add a 26th team in their 32nd all-time playoff game at 2 p.m. Saturday when they visit Tuscola.

"They're one of the more celebrated programs in this part of the state," BHRA coach Mark Dodd said of the Warriors. "I look at it as an opportunity and an honor to be on the same field as them and give it our best shot. I just want our kids to go enjoy it and play hard."

BHRA (9-1) beat West Hancock 66-30 this past Saturday at home in the first round of the 2A playoffs. Tuscola (9-1) defeated Villa Grove/Heritage 42-6 last Saturday in a home win, with the Warriors ahead 42-0 at halftime.

"The biggest challenge is they're really good," Dodd said. "Most teams, you look at them and try to find weaknesses in their personnel or scheme where you can attack them, but Tuscola is good everywhere."

The Blue Devils will face a Tuscola spread offense directed by senior quarterback Luke Sluder (80 of 133 for 1,287 passing yards, 13 touchdowns, three interceptions; 595 rushing yards, 16 TDs) that is bolstered by juniors Matthew Cantu (766 rushing yards, seven TDs) and Brandon Douglas (40 receptions for 769 yards, eight TDs).

BHRA quarterback Avery McConkey doesn't have prolific numbers — 29 of 58 for 671 passing yards, two touchdowns and one interception to go with 266 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns — but nobody might be more important to the Blue Devils' offense than the 5-foot-8, 165-pound junior.

"He is really smart and really understands what we're trying to do," Dodd said. "He's able to call a lot of plays at the line and get us into good situations."

Juniors Caleb Lahey (area-best 1,660 rushing yards, 26 TDs) and Jacob Akins (927 rushing yards, 11 TDs), along with sophomore Weston Strawser (412 rushing yards, 6 TDs), give the Blue Devils a trio capable of a long run on any carry.

"It's no magic," Dodd said. "We've been blessed with some good athletes. My first three or four years here, we didn't have any speed at all. The last eight or nine years, we've always had at least one talented kid, and some years we've had two or three."

3 Saturday's game at Argenta-Oreana offers a new environment for Fisher.

And not just because it's the first time the Bunnies (8-2) will face the Bombers (10-0) in a playoff game when the Class 1A second-round tilt kicks off at 1 p.m.

The turf field A-O has, which was installed prior to the 2018 season, forced the Bunnies to try and alter their practice plans a bit this week.

"We're trying to go down to Urbana and practice at their field so that way we can get a feel for what it's like on turf," Fisher coach Jake Palmer said. "We just want to give our kids an opportunity to see what that's like before Saturday."

If Fisher wins, it'll mark the Bunnies' second-ever trip to the state quarterfinals and first since 2005. A-O is trying to reach the state quarterfinals for the first time since 2003 and seventh time in program history.

"They're really gifted in their skill positions," Palmer said of A-O. "They have some guys that are really, really fast and can get to the edge."

Junior quarterback Josh Williams (92 of 156 for 1,466 passing yards, 21 touchdowns, three interceptions; 735 rushing yards, 17 TDs), junior Makail Stanley (44 receptions for an area-best 839 yards, 16 TDs), senior Makhi Stanley (903 rushing yards, 10 TDs) and junior Skyler Peterson (683 rushing yards, 13 TDs) highlight the Bombers' offense. Fisher can counter with junior Tyler Wilson (1,472 rushing yards, 26 TDs) and junior Will Delaney (41 of 78 for 743 passing yards, nine TDs, three interceptions; 408 rushing yards, six TDs).

"Tyler has done a great job, and he runs with a real low pad level," Palmer said. "It's a credit to him and our offensive line that opens up holes for him. He and Will are big parts of what we do. I'm real proud of their development and how far they've come over the course of these 11 weeks."

Now a quick jaunt to Macon County is in order for the Bunnies.

"It's kind of cool to play another local team that we wouldn't play otherwise," Palmer said. "The short trip always makes things a little easier and keeps the kids focused on the task at hand."

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