Playoff notebook: SJ-O set for familiar foe
History has a way of repeating itself for St. Joseph-Ogden’s football team.
The Spartans will travel to Wilmington today for a 6 p.m. Class 3A playoff game against an opponent that has become a postseason regular.
This is the fourth time in six years the schools have found themselves on the field together in the playoffs. All four games have been hosted by Wilmington, where the team’s pregame appearance provides a spectacle matched by few other schools. This is the third game between the two that has occurred with a quarterfinal berth at stake.
Wilmington leads the series 2-1, with victories in 2008 and 2009. SJ-O won the 2007 meeting.
“Hopefully, we’re better matched this year,” SJ-O coach Dick Duval said.
The game will provide a supreme challenge.
“They are very good defensively and very aggressive,” Duval said. “They don’t sit back and wait. They attack and force you to do things.”
Wilmington posted five consecutive regular season shutouts.
Two injured Spartans saw playing time last week and may have their roles expanded this week.
Chase Patton was used sparingly (eight carries) in the backfield against Aurora Central Catholic, and Josh Poulter was limited to playing on the offensive line.
With Austin Hedrick’s emergence (back-to-back 100-yard rushing performances), Duval chose not to rush season leader Patton back into action.
“Austin has done a great job and has shouldered the load,” Duval said. “We knew he was capable of that.”
Tight end Bryce Stewart still was sidelined in Week 1 of the playoffs. Clayton Slifer had several receptions and “helped with his blocking on the edge,” Duval said.
The Spartans’ go-to receivers have been Louis Acklin and Aaron Woller, who have teamed up for 751 receiving yards.
Sages on record-setting run
Erroneous information on the IHSA website resulted in a major Monticello milestone getting overlooked this season. The IHSA credits the Sages with 504 football victories, entering this season, since the program was implemented in 1914.
However, the 2010 season was listed twice. When those extra five victories are subtracted, it means the 35-0 season-opening triumph against Warrensburg-Latham was actually the school’s 500th football victory.
The Sages have a chance to add to their all-time total at 1:30 today, when they host unbeaten Williamsville in a Class 3A playoff game. The Bullets’ last five postseason appearances were in Class 2A.
“I feel like our team is capable of doing good things, but we have a formidable challenge in front of us,” Monticello coach Cully Welter said.
Williamsville opened the season with six consecutive shutouts and held seven regular season foes scoreless. Entering the 11th game, the Bullets have yielded three touchdowns.
“We’ve been run-oriented, but we’ll have to go in with more than one plan,” Welter said. “Their defense is exceptional, especially the front six. They’re stout, aggressive and fast.”
Ryan Donohue has been Monticello’s offensive workhorse. He ranks second in the area in total rushing attempts but still has maintained a 9.2-yards-per-carry average.
When they’ve taken to the air, the Sages have been effective. Parker Trice reached the 1,000-yard mark in last week’s 45-26 win at Nokomis and is completing 55 percent of his attempts.
“Austin Eckerty and Isaac Bales are capable receivers,” Welter said. “We haven’t had to utilize them a lot. Bales has been an excellent blocker. A lot of our running plays have been touchdowns because of his big blocks.”
Versatile Vinny Strack, who has been slowed by an ankle injury since Week 6, is back to full strength and will add another dimension to the offense.
Blue Devils in underdog role
Last week, Villa Grove’s football team was outsized by Winchester West Central but secured a 48-8 triumph. This week, the Blue Devils will hope they’re not outmanned by a Maroa-Forsyth squad that has played in the state finals two of the past three years in Class 2A.
The Trojans (9-1) were ranked third most of the season in 2A but were reclassified to 1A and rated second in the final state poll.
Villa Grove coach Chad Musselman knows what that means.
“We are the biggest underdog in the entire state of Illinois,” he said. “That takes the pressure off of us, and we can play football. If there’s a bigger underdog, I’d like to see it.”
The Blue Devils also have a 9-1 record. One point is clear and Musselman said it would be true regardless of the opponent.
“We can’t make mistakes and let them take advantage of it,” Musselman said. “We will bury ourselves.
“We can’t get a two-touchdown cushion and relax like we’ve done the last three weeks. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Maroa. Any second-round game would be that way.”
The Blue Devils were without rushing leader Ryan Pearce again last week. If he plays in today’s 1 p.m. game, it will be with limited practice time.
Quarterback John Henderson has joined Pearce as a 1,000-yard rusher this season, and Musselman said Austin Hubbart “has been a great offensive spark.”
Defensively, Hubbart has a team-high five interceptions, including one he nearly returned for a touchdown last week.
Only Unity and Bismarck-Henning also have two 1,000-yard rushers in their backfields this season.
Right on the number
With record-setting quarterback Cameron Mammen at the controls of the Urbana offense, the Tigers are making the most of their time with the ball.
Coach Nathan Watson’s no-huddle, speed-up philosophy has resulted in the team averaging 60.9 plays per game entering today’s 4 p.m. Class 5A contest at Morris.
That totals to 1.27 plays per minute for the entire 48-minute game. For comparison purposes, last season’s Rose Bowl champion Oregon team averaged 1.24 plays per minute over the course of its season.
Oregon averaged more total plays per game (74.1) than the Tigers, but collegiate quarters are three minutes longer per period.
“Give us the extra three minutes per quarter and I bet we get 74 plays a game,” said Watson, whose 9-1 team is seeking the first 10-win season in school history.
Mammen’s Twin City career passing record stands at 4,453 yards. His total offense career total (6,375) places him 14th on the all-time IHSA list.
— Is there a more proficient and efficient passer than Cerro Gordo/DeLand-Weldon/Bement’s Cole Blickensderfer? The 6-foot junior has completed 23 passes this season; 13 have gone for touchdowns, and each completion is going for an average of 35.3 yards.
Blickensderfer has thrown for 812 yards, with just one of his 49 passes landing in an opponent’s hands.
— Unity and Villa Grove are the lone area schools this year with four players who have scored at least 10 touchdowns. The Rockets’ leaders are Justin Deters, Conner Grace, Kyle Negangard and Micah Johnson. Villa Grove’s leaders are Pearce, Henderson, Terrion Price and Shane Frick.
— With wins today, area teams will play each other next week in three of the classes. Salt Fork and Villa Grove would be matched up in the Class 1A quarterfinals at Jamaica High School, while Bismarck-Henning and Cerro Gordo/DeLand-Weldon/Bement would be 2A opponents in Cerro Gordo. Monticello and Unity are each one win from a Class 3A quarterfinal game the Sages would host.