Panthers showing power
A month ago, when area coaches predicted the order of finish for their conferences, Paxton-Buckley-Loda and Iroquois West/Tri-Point were picked for the bottom positions in the Sangamon Valley Conference. They play one another Friday, and the winner will be 3-0. PBL coach Jeff Graham revamped the offense and returned to the winged-T philosophy that he grew accustomed to while playing at the school under coaches Clint Forsyth and Jerry Zimmerman. The Panthers have had outstanding rushing efforts from Drew Schrodt in Week 1 and from Jesse Houtzel in Week 2. They don't do anything alone. "It takes one another," Graham said. "If you're not carrying, you have to carry out fakes and block well." While PBL and Iroquois West might be the SVC's early-season surprises, the league is a formidable one. Every SVC school enters Week 3 with a 2-0 record. "It speaks for itself," Graham said. "It's a good, solid football conference." PBL has started 3-0 just three times in the past 18 years (2002, 1999 and 1995), and Graham hopes the current success continues. "I was a ball boy when I was 6. No one wants to see this turned around more than me."
Deja vu at Centennial
Mike McDonnell remembers well his 2000 Centennial football team. Sophomores played a prominent role. "We took our lumps the first five or six games, then won three in a row and two years later we were in the (state) quarterfinals," McDonnell said. This season, six or seven sophomores are regular contributors. "They're the best guys at some of these positions, so we put them in there," McDonnell said. "We're like we were in 2000. Each game will be a little better. I've been most impressed with the hustle and the desire to win. These kids believe they can win." The Chargers (1-1) get their next chance for a victory on Friday when they host a Danville team that is trying to avoid its first 0-3 start since the 2004 and 2005 seasons. McDonnell likes the direction his team is heading. "Nobody has played together very long," he said. "Good things will happen with this group."
Defense lifts Bismarck-Henning
The only area team that hasn't allowed a touchdown in two games is Bismarck-Henning, which hosts another 2-0 team Friday when Milford/Cissna Park provides the opposition. Defense was a strength in 2011 when six of 11 Blue Devil opponents scored no more than one touchdown. "We had a great group last year, but this year we have the potential to be even better," B-H coach Mark Dodd said. Morgan Supergan and Austin Reinken have been fixtures at end for two years, and Zack Akins and Cole Acton "have proven to be a force at defensive tackles," Dodd said. Linebacker Kevin Allen is a three-year starter, and his colleagues have solidified that unit. Mo Abbed has interceptions in each of his first two games, and Luke Horton has made a seamless transition from cornerback to outside linebacker. The secondary is a mixture of speed and experience, including Ty Hufford (two interceptions vs. Arcola), Anthony Helton and Dustyn Ingram. Milford/Cissna Park "will challenge us in every way," Dodd said. "Our size and power against their speed and quickness. Their skill kids have the ability to change a game."
Tigers looking to make history
Urbana has an opportunity for a feat which hasn't happened at the school in a quarter of a century. It was 25 years ago when the Tigers last beat Bloomington in football in back-to-back years. In 1987, Urbana edged the Purple Raiders 15-14, a year after winning a 12-6 decision. The defensive catalyst for the 1986 Urbana team was senior linebacker Kirk Mammen (team-high 18 tackles). His nephew, Cameron Mammen, quarterbacked the 2011 Tigers to a 34-14 win over Bloomington and is now a senior. This year's Purple Raider team is 2-0, but trailed in the final minute of both games. Bloomington scored with 36 seconds left to beat Danville 43-42 in Week 1 and needed a TD with 22 seconds left last week to edge Normal Community 20-18. In the past 30 years, Urbana is 4-18 against Bloomington. There were eight years the schools did not play one another. Urbana senior Anterio Jones, who had 62 rushing yards as a junior, had a breakout 148-yard effort last week against Champaign Central and is the Tigers' top ground-gainer (230 yards). "He has just scratched the surface of what we've always believed he can do," Urbana coach Nathan Watson said. "The two things that have always held him back are a lack of confidence and self discipline. Now that he is becoming more disciplined, his confidence is building. The conference had better beware because this kid can play."
Villa Grove has Saturday date
After scoring 121 points in two victories, Villa Grove enters Week 3 against the only opponent with a win among the first five on its schedule. Saturday's 2 p.m. home game, however, is against a second-year program, Big Rock Christian Academy (1-0), which is a collection of home-schooled players who practice near Aurora. Big Rock has an abbreviated six-game schedule this season. They are not an IHSA member, but gained status as an IHSA-approved school, which enables them to play IHSA teams. Senior Ryan Pearce has been the Blue Devils' workhorse. He scored eight touchdowns last week against Schlarman, a total which ties him for eighth on the all-time IHSA single-game list. The 190-pound Pearce is the area rushing leader (430 yards) and is averaging 9.6 yards per carry. He also leads the area in scoring (66 points). Pearce is running behind an offensive line that features seniors Logan Vollmer, Patrick Dahl, Bjorn Oberg, Wyatt Beesley and Kelly Chapman along with junior tight end Noah Palmer. Senior Devin Fredrick has also played significant minutes. VG coach Chad Musselman said one of Pearce's best traits can't be measured by statistics. "Ryan is a tremendous kid and an amazing leader," Musselman said. "His ability to communicate with every single player on the team and get them to all rally together for one common goal is truly amazing."