Prep football storylines: GCMS, A-O and Tuscola aim to be among final 8

Prep football storylines: GCMS, A-O and Tuscola aim to be among final 8

1. Close games have not materialized this season for Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley football.

So a 31-7 victory this past Saturday at home against Chicago Hope Academy may have had Falcons' fans a bit on edge. Especially considering GCMS only led 21-7 late in the third quarter.

No worries, though, according to GCMS coach Mike Allen.

"It was nice because Chicago Hope Academy was an extremely athletic team," Allen said. "They had athletes all over the field. For us to be able to compete against a team like that and play well, it gave us a lot of confidence."

The Falcons (11-0) will bring that added swagger into a 6 p.m. kickoff on Saturday at Sterling Newman (10-1) in a Class 2A state quarterfinal game. The two teams met last season, with GCMS winning 14-8 on its home field in a state semifinal game.

That the defending 2A state champions will have to again knock off the Comets if they want to reach a second straight state championship game isn't lost on GCMS.

"Traditionally, they've always been good, so we're excited about the opportunity," Allen said. "They're a wishbone team that is going to run it at us."

GCMS also has to deal with playing on a turf surface at Roscoe Eades Stadium in Sterling. The Falcons beat El Paso-Gridley 63-6 earlier this season on turf and GCMS won its state championship last season on the Huskie Stadium turf in DeKalb, defeating Maroa-Forsyth 38-32.

"We're used to it," Allen said. "We get what it'll be like to play on."

Having a Saturday night kickoff — Sterling hosts Rockford Boylan at 1 p.m. on Saturday in a 5A state quarterfinal game at Roscoe Eades Stadium, which necessitated the move for the Falcons to play later in the day on Saturday — adds to the hype surrounding the second straight year GCMS and Sterling Newman have met deep in the playoffs.

"It's the playoffs, so you have to play where and at what times the teams dictate," Allen said. "It's going to be really cold and a long drive up there, but we're looking forward to it."

2. Argenta-Oreana has scored at least 40 points in 10 of its 11 games this season.

But the undefeated Bombers don't just rely on a high-octane offense going into Saturday's 1:30 p.m. Class 1A state quarterfinal game at Central A&M.

A-O (11-0) beat Fisher 44-23 last Saturday, with the 23 points the most the Bombers have allowed in a game so far. The emergence of linebacker Skyler Peterson and his team-high 100 tackles this season has helped solidify the defense.

"Peterson has been phenomenal," A-O coach Steve Kirk said of the senior. "He's able to get us in the right checks and get us in the right spots. He really plays downhill and does a wonderful job for us."

Peterson also adds a dynamic on offense for the Bombers with 709 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns.

"It's the first year he's had significant time on both sides of the ball, and he enjoys it," Kirk said. "He's a team player and a great teammate, which, when you're one of the better players and a great teammate, it really helps."

Senior defensive back Colton Robinson (five interceptions) is a playmaker in the secondary, while Kirk said the defensive line's production "has been a pleasant surprise."

"Overall on defense," Kirk said, "I thought we've played really well all season."

They'll need to continue the trend against Central A&M (8-3), which has won six straight games and is averaging 38.3 points per game during that stretch.

Combine the fact the Bombers will see a hostile crowd in Moweaqua — the Raiders are hosting their first playoff game since 2012 — and add in the high-pressure stakes both programs face knowing they're only two wins away from reaching Memorial Stadium, the Bombers understand they'll have to play one of their best games.

"It's going to be amped up," Kirk said. "Their fans are salivating at the chance to host a playoff game. They have a reputation for being a raucous crowd and really getting behind their team. We're going to have to be prepared for that and what kind of atmosphere we'll see."

3. Tuscola lost a regular-season game this fall for the first time in Andy Romine's four seasons coaching the Warriors.

But, Romine didn't have to look far for an example of teams enduring a loss before the playoffs started and still reaching a state championship game.

That team — Maroa-Forsyth — is one the Warriors will play at 1 p.m. on Saturday in Maroa in a Class 2A state quarterfinal game.

"They've improved themselves through the course of a season numerous times after a loss," Romine said of the Trojans, who have played in six state title games since 2009 after losing at least once in the regular season. "Sometimes losing those games, if you attack the reasons why, you'll end up better."

Tuscola (10-1) is on a seven-game win streak after losing 56-28 to St. Teresa in Week 4, while Maroa-Forsyth (11-0) hasn't lost since falling to Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley in last year's 2A state title game.

This is the third ever playoff meeting between Tuscola and Maroa-Forsyth, two old Okaw Valley Conference Blue members who haven't played since 2014 when the Trojans beat the Warriors 22-20 in a 2A state semifinal game.

"They're bigger this year than what we've seen them in the past," Romine said. "They run well on the perimeter, which is pretty typical of them, and they know how to get the ball to athletes in space. It'll come down to us tackling well."

Which means Tuscola will need strong performances from key defensive cogs like senior linebacker Michael Badgett (59 tackles, three interceptions) and junior defensive lineman Josh Dyer (44 tackles), among others, in trying to limit a Maroa-Forsyth offense that averages 47.1 points.

"Those two kids have really contributed to our success," Romine said. "Michael leads our team in tackles after not playing as much early in the year because he was still learning some things. Josh is undersized and wiry, and we fondly refer to him as a wet noodle. He can be bent over backwards in a double team and still finds ways to make plays."