Vermilion showdown continues
SIDELL — Since 2010, the dominant football teams in the Vermilion Valley Conference have been Bismarck-Henning and Salt Fork, in some order. Going back 31/2 years, Salt Fork has won 27 of its last 28 games. In nearly the same period, B-H has won 24 of its last 25 games. Those two programs will play one another Friday at Jamaica High School. Each is 4-0 this fall.
The Blue Devils have a regular season winning streak of 17 games. Their last nontournament loss was to the Storm in 2011. Salt Fork had a 19-game regular season winning streak snapped by B-H in 2012. “This is a nice midseason test which will have conference implications,” said Salt Fork coach Brian Plotner, who is six wins from his 100th as a head coach. “Defensively, we’ve given up a lot of points. We’re trying to shore things up and do a better job against the pass, in particular. We have to find a way to limit big plays.”
Linebacker Steven Meade is coming off his best game of the season (14 tackles), and Plotner calls outside linebacker Garrett McFadden “a sure tackler who is very businesslike.” McFadden had an interception and a fumble recovery last week.
Quarterback Jacob Hughes transferred last year from B-H. “His arm is stronger than anyone we’ve had since ‘08 with J.D. Learnard,” Plotner said. “He’s in tune with the game and studies a lot of film.” An indication of how close this week’s game could be: In Week 1, B-H beat Martinsville 48-6. In Week 2, Salt Fork beat Martinsville 50-6. In Week 3, B-H beat Milford/Cissna Park 17-15. In Week 4, the Storm rallied to beat the Bearcats 40-30.
Same schedule, different result
GIBSON CITY — Playing the same opponents the first four weeks this year that Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley faced in 2012 has produced a different outcome. A year ago, the Falcons were 1-3 entering a Week 5 game against Paxton-Buckley-Loda.
This year, coach Mike Allen’s team is 3-1 ahead of its Friday homecoming encounter against unbeaten PBL. “This year, we are playing much better and have a deeper bench,” Allen said. Senior quarterback Ross Royal had a sore shoulder last year and played primarily in the secondary. This year, he has passed for 403 yards and leads GCMS in rushing. Senior Austin Rosenbaum is not the prototype for a middle linebacker — he’s 5-foot-9, 185 pounds — but Allen said, “With his drive and his heart, and his ability to read so well, he has been a great impact.”
Other defensive mainstays include Key-Shawn Girkin, Austin Hornstein, Levi Davis and Christian Smith. Allen and his PBL coaching counterpart, Jeff Graham, are former high school teammates. When Allen was a senior at PBL, Graham was a sophomore. “We got along well,” Allen said. “I’ve always respected Jeff. He doesn’t have negative words to say about people. I knew Coach Graham would get the PBL program back to where it should be.”
Allen has guided GCMS into the playoffs a record eight times and is in his 13th year as head coach, matching the longest tenure, held by his predecessor, Vic Jennings. Allen now looks at PBL as another game on the schedule instead of a major highlight. “My first couple of years, it did consume me and I wanted to win,” he said. “I’ve changed my philosophy. We want to get better as a team.”
Tigers charging forward
URBANA — A seasonlong losing streak ended in a big way last week as an Urbana team that had managed 52 points in the first three weeks put up 50 in a shutout against visiting Springfield Lanphier. Sophomore Alex Beckman put up school-record single-game totals of 371 passing yards and six touchdown passes.
Don’t look for a quick game when the Tigers play Friday at Centennial. The Chargers have a quarterback — Jimmy Fitzgerald — who has received a scholarship offer from an Illini team coached by Tim Beckman. “The ball will be in the air a lot,” Urbana coach Nathan Watson said. “I’m sure it will be a long game.”
Alex Beckman, who has played three games, is nearly halfway to the Tigers’ single-season passing record (1,790 set last year by Cameron Mammen). He has teamed up with five receivers for TD passes. “Last year, we ran to establish the pass, and this year, we pass to establish the run,” Watson said. “That gives us the best chance to win. We have a lot of selection at the skill positions.”
Jeff Trask Jr. — mainly a defensive player last year — leads Urbana with 20 receptions. Tanner Russell has the most receiving yards, and James Cobbs — the only running back with as much as 60 yards rushing for the season — has the highest per-catch average, 22.3 yards per reception. Fourteen of the team’s 15 offensive TDs have been on pass plays.
“Last week was the first week we had the entire team on the field, whether for injuries or discipline,” Watson said. “After a big year (2012 conference co-championship), we’re kind of searching for our identity. Who’s going to step up? It’s hard when not everyone is on the field. Now we’ve found out who we are and what we need to do.” Centennial leads the series 24-17.
Eagles chasing first win
RANTOUL — In an 0-4 start, Rantoul’s Eagles have shown improvement in Ira Jefferson’s first year as head coach. Last year, the team was shut out in three games and held to one touchdown in three others. This year’s squad has reached the end zone in every game and has done so more than once in three of the games.
“In our first three games, we were right there,” Jefferson said. “That’s why it’s so frustrating. Our offense is coming around. It has been a bright spot.” Under the direction of quarterback Tim Morgan, Rantoul has scored 10 touchdowns entering Friday’s game at Bill Walsh Field against unbeaten and state-ranked Mahomet-Seymour.
Morgan eclipsed the 100-yard mark in both rushing and passing last week against Olympia.
M-S coach Keith Pogue said in many similar instances he would not show game film of a winless opponent to his players. This week is an exception. “The things we (coaches) have noticed is they are schematically sound and doing a lot of good things,” Pogue said, “and they have athletes. We’ve been able to keep the focus.”
Jefferson is pleased that others are noticing the strides taken by the program. “I know it hasn’t shown on the scoreboard, but I’m happy with the improvement we’ve made. I haven’t quit on them, and I don’t want them to quit on me.”
The players, Jefferson said, “believe in themselves and what we’re doing. They see the progress.” The Eagles are in their final year in the Corn Belt. Next year, they will join the Okaw Valley with Maroa-Forsyth, Monticello, St. Joseph-Ogden, St. Thomas More and Unity. Rantoul’s freshmen are 2-2.
Tough stretch for Sabers
CHAMPAIGN — St. Thomas More hits the midway mark of its season with a 3-1 record. The next three opponents have a cumulative record of 10-2 and two of those schools are unbeaten, including state-ranked Clifton Central, which hosts the Sabers on Friday.
Clifton Central has shut out three consecutive teams. St. Thomas More is chasing a school-record seventh successive playoff berth with a different focus on offense. The past two years, STM had the area’s top receiver (Kevin Carroll). This year, eight receivers have caught passes from Storm Joop, who broke the school mark for career TD tosses. He now has 36. Two-thirds of the team’s offense has come in the rushing game; freshman Josh Parker has a team-high 625 yards to go with a 9.9 per-carry average.
“He is a special player,” coach Dan Hennessey said. “Our goal is to get him to the second level. There’s not a team in the area that can catch him from behind.”
Joop needs 748 yards to shatter the all-time Twin City passing record, set last year by Urbana’s Mammen (4,613 yards). “He has become more of a student of the game and is seeing the field a lot better,” Hennessey said. “We need to give him a little more time, another second or two.”
Many Sabers are playing both ways, but Hennessey is looking for ways to give breaks. “Each week, we’re finding another kid here or there,” he said. “We have some sophomores who are giving us more confidence to put them in for certain situations.”
Last year’s regular kicker, Daniel Shin, has battled a knee injury, and another soccer player, Dennis Freeman, has booted seven extra points in his absence. Hennessey said Freeman also might be used as a kick returner or receiver.
Urbana at Centennial (HC)
Martinsville at Arthur-Lovington/Atwood-Hammond (HC)
Tri-County at Cerro Gordo/DeLand-Weldon/Bement (Cerro Gordo HC)
Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac at Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman (HC)
Paxton-Buckley-Loda at Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley (HC)
Heyworth at LeRoy (HC)
Olympia at Prairie Central (HC)
Deer Creek-Mackinaw at Ridgeview (HC)
Bismarck-Henning at Salt Fork (Jamaica HC)
Arcola at Villa Grove/Heritage (HC)
Milford/Cissna Park at Westville (HC)
Central A&M at Argenta-Oreana
Central at Decatur MacArthur
Danville at Decatur Eisenhower
Warrensburg-Latham at Tuscola
Mahomet-Seymour at Rantoul
Unity at Sullivan/Okaw Valley
St. Thomas More at Clifton Central
Monticello at Clinton
Fisher at Tri-Valley
St. Joseph-Ogden at Iroquois West/Tri-Point
Watseka at Momence
Bloomington Central Catholic at Pontiac
El Paso-Gridley at Aston Franklin Carter
Normal University High at Eureka
Fieldcrest at Flanagan/Cornell
Tremont at Lexington
Maroa-Forsyth at Meridian
Normal West at Normal Community
Shelbyville at St. Teresa
Bloomington at Chicago St. Patrick