Two of state’s best at Tolono
TOLONO — Two schools that played for state championships last November will face off Friday at Hicks Field. Defending Class 1A state champion Maroa-Forsyth takes on 2012 Class 3A runner-up Unity. Both schools are currently ranked first — or tied for first — in their respective classes in The Associated Press state prep polls.
There is less importance on this year’s game — perhaps — for the coaches than there will be in 2014, when the teams also will meet in Tolono. Next year’s game will be a conference contest in the revamped Okaw Valley.
This year’s game is a non-league affair that will have no bearing on whether the schools win a league title in their separate divisions.
“It gives you a good test to see where you’re at,” Unity coach Scott Hamilton said. “It’s obviously not life or death or the season will come to an end, but we look forward to the challenge. We realize whether we win or lose, there’s still a long process to get to where we want to be.”
Last year, the teams played in Week 2 and Unity prevailed. Next year’s matchup will be in Week 5.
The Rockets will have a new tight end. Starter Hiley Freeman — who had touchdown receptions in the first two games — suffered a broken collarbone last week at Meridian. He did not require surgery and could be sidelined six to eight weeks. In his place will be Kameron Heath, who started at tight end last year against the Trojans. Freeman, a junior, had developed into a player, Hamilton said, who “became a big part of our offense. He’d become a go-to receiver guy and was one of our best blockers.”
Bunnies get extra day to prepare
FISHER — For the second week in a row, coach Matt Leng’s unbeaten and state-ranked Fisher Bunnies play a Saturday afternoon game. Fisher will host a traditional state power, Dakota, which has won state championships three of the past eight years.
“Dakota is a measuring stick as far as Class 1A programs,” Leng said. “They are big up front, will run the ball and will swarm and blitz on defense.”
The Bunnies won’t give away too much as far as size in the trenches. Leng has positioned tackle Zach Hatfill (285 pounds) and guard Josh Wallick (285 pounds) side-by-side on the offensive line. “Between those two and (Hayden) Fiedler (230 pounds) at tight end, that’s about 800 pounds,” Leng said. While state wrestling champion Wallick received much of the preseason notoriety, Leng said, “Zach has stepped his game up and is calm under pressure.” On the opposite side of the line is tackle Gilvie Zook (245 pounds).
With the line leading the way, the Bunnies have been effective running the ball. They use a committee-type philosophy rather than one featured back who averages 30 carries per game. Aaron Carter is the team’s rushing leader, though the athletes who rotate as wingbacks are all averaging at least 5 yards per carry.
Brad Pettenger, Tyler Rogers and Conrad Thomas are other key ball carriers utilized by quarterback Brody Farrar. “Tyler is the unsung hero,” Leng said. “He has had big carries in crucial situations.” Leng has lightened his practice schedule. “Helmets only on Thursdays,” he said. “We want to keep our legs fresh.”
Spartans’ defense provides lift
ST. JOSEPH — A Week 2 loss was followed by a less-than-promising start in Game 3. St. Joseph-Ogden’s Spartans fumbled away the opening kickoff against Momence deep in their own territory. SJ-O recaptured the momentum thanks to a huge defensive play.
“Ryan Ciotta deflected a pass and intercepted it,” SJ-O coach Dick Duval said. “That was a big turning point and gave us a spark.” Ciotta was playing his first game at a new position. He had shifted from defensive back to outside linebacker, with Cole Berry moving into a starting role in the secondary.
Even though last year’s all-conference quarterback, Dalton Walsh, rejoined the team last week, sophomore Eli Oltean was the starter. “We felt he (Oltean) didn’t do anything not to deserve to be the quarterback,” Duval said. “Everybody knows we have two very capable people.” Entering Week 4, Oltean ranks eighth in the area in passing (434 yards) and has completed 58 percent of his attempts (22 of 38). Walsh, a senior, saw significant time as a defensive back and, Duval said, “was tremendous.”
Overall, Duval said, “We played with a lot more aggression” than the previous week. The Spartans play their homecoming game Friday against Clifton Central.
In a preseason coaches poll, SJ-O was picked as the team to beat in the Sangamon Valley Conference, followed by the Comets. “They are probably the most talented team in the conference,” Duval said. “Their skill kids are tremendous.” The game will start at about 7:30 p.m. SJ-O will induct its first Hall of Fame class (10 members) in an on-field ceremony at 6:30.
Unbeatens battle in Mahomet
MAHOMET — Mahomet-Seymour scheduled a challenge for homecoming. The 3-0 Bulldogs, ranked eighth in Class 4A, play a Pontiac team that is also 3-0. “This will be a good test for us,” M-S coach Keith Pogue said. “Pontiac has a dynamite defense. They’ve only given up six points.”
The Bulldogs’ offense, meanwhile, hasn’t scored fewer than 31 points in any game yet. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many offensive weapons we’ve developed,” Pogue said.
Quarterback Joe Kenney has a strong assortment of receivers, including Tyler Francisco, Bradley Gleason and Cully Day. “Tyler has been pretty dynamic at the slot, and another pleasant surprise is Daniel Roberson, who is a weapon at fullback,” Pogue said.
Helping everything come together is an offensive line that has been intact throughout the first one-third of the season. “We don’t have the size we’ve had in past years,” Pogue said, “but they have been consistent.”
Guard Kurt Koester (204 pounds) has been one of the mainstays. The other starters are guard Lane Luksander (210) and center Ethan McCullough (260) along with tackles Andrew Franklin (233) and Chandler Stranc (209).
Defensively, Pogue said, “it’s a veteran defense, and we expected them to be pretty tough. We’ve gotten what we expected.” Pogue is hopeful his players keep the various homecoming festivities in perspective. “The thing I shared is that we want you to have a lot of great homecoming memories, but if you lose the game, that is the only thing you will remember,” he said.
‘Mirror images’ between these 3-0 teams
CERRO GORDO — For the second consecutive week, Cerro Gordo/DeLand-Weldon/Bement lines up against an unbeaten opponent. The Broncos handled Arthur-Lovington/Atwood-Hammond last week and this week go against 3-0 Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman.
The Buffaloes are looking to prove themselves. “We haven’t beaten anybody that has a winning record,” G-RF/C coach Josh Cavanaugh said. “We look at this as a game that’s a good indicator of whether we’re a team that can be competitive in the VVC and the rest of the state.”
He hopes the answer is a positive one, but added, “You never know where you are until you get tested.” G-RF/C has a team with three seniors, including rushing leader Dylan Bina. Cavanaugh said Bina is leading in other areas as well.
“After practice, Bina calls the kids together and tells them how practice was, what they’re doing wrong. He’s doing a lot of verbal coaching. He is also controlling everything in the defensive secondary.”
One of the inexperienced players who’s made an impact is junior cornerback Damien Donoven. “He has a couple of interceptions and has returned a punt for a touchdown.”
Another bright spot is the development of the offensive line. “I have seven linemen I feel pretty good about,” Cavanaugh said. “They are getting better and better every day.”
In many ways, preparing for the Broncos is like preparing for the Buffaloes. “In some ways, we’re mirror images,” Cavanaugh said. “Solid quarterback play, great tailback play, each with a good fullback. We run out of the same sets. They run a 4-4 (defense). We run a 4-4.”
Salt Fork at Milford/Cissna Park (HC)
Meridian at Clinton (HC)
Westville at Bismarck-Henning (HC)
Pontiac at Mahomet-Seymour (HC)
Clifton Central at St. Joseph-Ogden (HC)
Maroa-Forsyth at Unity (HC)
Arcola at Tri-County
Argenta-Oreana at St. Teresa
Normal Community at Centennial
Central at Bloomington
Normal West at Danville
Tuscola at Monticello
Urbana at Springfield Lanphier
Gibson City Melvin Sibley at Ridgeview
Central A&M at Sullivan/OV
Iroquois West/Tri-Point at LeRoy
Hoopeston Area at Oakwood/Armstong-Potomac
Georgetown Ridge Farm/Chrisman at Cerro Gordo/Bement (Cerro Gordo)
Rantoul at Olympia
Watseka at Paxton Buckley Loda
Villa Grove/Heritage at Martinsville
Momence at St. Thomas More
Prairie Central at Normal Univ. High
Arthur at Big Rock Crossroads Academy (Auora Christian) 4 pm
Dakota at Fisher, 2 pm
MacArthur at Eisenhower, 3 pm