CHAMPAIGN – When Champaign Central visits Metamora at 1 p.m. today in a Class 5A first-round playoff game, the Maroons will get a closeup look at a program they'd love to emulate.
Metamora, 9-0 and the state's top-ranked 5A team, has been to the playoffs 14 straight years. Between 1996 and 2000, the Redbirds finished second four times.
It's that type of sustained success Central coach Dave Jacobs is hoping to establish at Central.
"It's going to be a good steppingstone for us to see where our program is," Jacobs said. "Ideally, we want our program to be like theirs, at some point. Machine-like."
Jacobs said he's long known Metamora coach Pat Ryan, who took over in 1990. The Redbirds missed the playoffs in three of his first four seasons, but they've been one of middle Illinois' best programs ever since, their success rooted in a fundamental, disciplined approach.
It helps to have talent, too, and Metamora has it. Quarterback Caleb Terbush (6-foot-5, 215 pounds) has committed to Purdue, although the Redbirds rarely throw. They're known for a smashmouth running game, using Wing-T principles out of the shotgun formation. Fullback Brock Gray (6-0, 190) has rushed for 1,290 yards on 96 carries. The defense is led by 6-5, 220-pound linebacker Brad Herman, who has committed to Iowa.
Few opponents have even been able to slow them down. Metamora averages 51.4 points, the highest figure in the state. They topped 60 points four times, including a 75-0 victory against East Peoria.
The Maroons, however, aren't convinced that Metamora has faced a defense like their own. Central gives up 18 points a game and hasn't allowed a point in the first quarter this season.
"People have been telling me they're the highest-scoring team in Illinois," Central linebacker Reggie Pace said. "Hey, our defense hasn't given up a point in the first quarter of our games. So I'm feeling pretty confident.
"This is the big challenge we've all been looking for. If they can score in the first quarter, they're a pretty good team."
Jacobs in midweek seemed to be sending signals to his team that it shouldn't be intimidated by the Redbirds' gaudy credentials, which includes a championship in the Mid-Illini Conference. Central's Big 12 Conference has sent a representative to the Class 6A title game in each of the past five seasons.
"As far as comparing the conferences, I don't know. Our league's pretty good," Jacobs said. "We've done pretty well against the run. It's a good matchup for us in that aspect.
"I don't want to make it sound like they're awesome. They're good. But we've got players, too."