Week 4 storylines: Starting to heat up

Week 4 storylines: Starting to heat up

Rockets, Spartans set to clash on Friday 

TOLONO — Hicks Field has treated St. Joseph-Ogden with some memorable wins.

And some disheartening losses.

Unity and SJ-O renew their longstanding rivalry at 7 p.m. on Friday at Unity's home venue, with Unity having won the last two games in the series, both of which have happened at Hicks FIeld.

SJ-O last won in Tolono in 2014, defeating the Rockets 41-14 during a Class 3A second-round playoff game. Unity prevailed 26-8 during Week 8 of the 2016 regular season and 30-8 during the 3A state semifinals in 2015.

In fact, Unity holds an 11-5 series lead in the rivalry this century. The timing of this year's game is the earliest the two foes have met since they played in Week 3 of the 1984 regular season, giving the rivalry somewhat of a different feel.

"We're really trying to focus on not treating it any differently," SJ-O coach Shawn Skinner said. "We understand for the communities and the kids in both schools, it's a big deal. Rightfully so. But if we win or lose this week, it doesn't matter in the long run because there's so much season left. It's an important game, though, because this is part of the process of where we're trying to get to."

Unity (3-0) is off to a strong start in the debut season of the Illini Prairie Conference, even with last Friday's 28-20 close win at Prairie Central.

SJ-O (2-1) won its first two games before stumbling 59-39 at home last Friday against Bloomington Central Catholic.

SJ-O junior quarterback Keanen Swanson threw for 423 yards and five touchdowns against BCC as the Spartans turned to the air with junior running back Dwight Colvin limited because of an ankle injury. Colvin, who rushed for 312 yards in Week 1, hurt his ankle in Week 2 at Rantoul and only managed nine yards on 10 carries against BCC.

"We'll see about his availability this week," Skinner said.

If Colvin can't go, SJ-O could turn to Adam Frerichs and Jason Bowman in the backfield, with wideouts Aiden Meyer, Joel Orcutt and Bryce Haake key offensive components as well.

"We've got a variety of options," Skinner said. "We're not going to sit there and say we can't run the football. It's allowed us to expand our offense and our passing game. We're not going to be one-dimensional."

Unity, ranked second in Class 3A in the latest Associated Press poll, can run and the pass effectively. Quarterback Steven Migut, an Army commit, leads the way. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound senior is the area's third-leading rusher with 483 yards on 50 carries and eight TDs. He's completed 27 of 47 passes for 446 yards, five TDs and two interceptions.

Unity running back Keaton Eckstein is another playmaker the Spartans' defense will have to contend with. The 5-9, 175-pound senior has rushed for 345 yards on 46 carries.

"A lot of the 59 points BCC scored were self-inflicted wounds," Skinner said. "When we looked at film, we had 32 missed tackles. That's just not conducive to winning football. We've got to minimize our mistakes this week."

Tigers just keep on winning

WESTVILLE — Brandt Williamson is a big guy.

The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Westville senor is an integral part of both lines for the undefeated Tigers heading into their 7 p.m. kickoff on Friday at Vermilion Valley Conference opponent Milford/Cissna Park.

"He's been an impact player for us," Westville coach Guy Goodlove said. "We're able to run behind him, and defensively, he shuts his side down."

Not bad considering Williamson played soccer last season as part of the Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Westville co-op.

But the senior did play football his first two years with the Tigers before deciding to give futbol a brief try as a junior.

"He could have helped us last year," Goodlove said. "The only thing I said to him when I heard rumors he may come back out for football is, 'If you decide you're going to play and come out, I'm going to expect 100 percent of you.' He told me, 'Coach, I'll be there for the entire season.'"

The season has started out well for Williamson and the rest of his teammates. Westville carries a No. 7 state ranking in the latest Class 2A Associated Press statewide poll and a perfect 3-0 mark so far despite having to replace 17 starters a year after finishing 10-1, winning the VVC title and advancing to the second round of the Class 3A playoffs.

"It's taken a little bit of time to gel," Goodlove said. "I wouldn't say we're where we want to be yet, but we're closer than what we were at the start of practice."

Having Williamson back in the fold helps, but the Tigers also return several key skill position players from last season, notably a three-year starter at quarterback in Duncan Hathaway.

The 5-foot-8, 155-pound senior is 21 of 33 for 382 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions through the first three games.

"There's not much he hasn't seen," Goodlove said. "He's familiar with everything we do, and it's like having another coach on the field. He can read defenses well, and he's able to make whatever adjustments he needs to."

Fellow returnees in senior running backs Cameron Nicholas (221 rushing yards on 31 carries, four touchdowns) and Owen Mariage-Tucker (177 rushing yards on 27 carries, three TDs), along with senior receiver Tylan Stricklett (10 catches for 269 yards, two TDs), are also key in making sure the Tigers — who have won their last 18 straight regular season games — are humming along even as the program preps for its third straight road game this week, this time against the Bearcats (2-1).

The first two ended well, with Westville pulling out a close 22-16 win at Paxton-Buckley-Loda in Week 2 before dispatching Salt Fork 48-14 last Friday night to start league play. The early-season road trips flip starting in Week 5 when Westville is home for three straight games.

"I don't think we really much care about where we play," Goodlove said. "The most important thing to us is we put in a good week of prep to get ready for Friday night. As long as we do that, we're going to go into every ballgame thinking we'll do well."

Odds and ends around the area

Folks attending Friday night's Vermilion Valley Conference clash between Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin (2-1) and host Oakwood (3-0) shouldn't expect a lengthy game. BHRA features area rushing leader Caleb Lahey. The sophomore has picked up 760 yards on 84 carries and 10 touchdowns, while Oakwood senior Skylar Bolton (595 rushing yards on 40 carries, 10 TDs) is the area's second leading rusher. Both teams have veteran quarterbacks who are capable of throwing the ball when needed. Through three games, Oakwood senior Chase Vinson is 13 of 19 for 246 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions, while BHRA senior Wyatt Edwards is 7 of 18 for 181 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions. ... If Rantoul (1-2) is able to pull off an upset at home on Friday night against state-ranked Monticello (3-0), it'll be noteworthy for another reason. The Eagles, who won 40-20 last Friday night at Olympia, haven't had a two-game win streak since the 2010 season when Rantoul defeated Olympia 63-7 on Sept. 17, 2010 and followed that up with a 31-28 win at Mahomet-Seymour a week later. ... One winless Sangamon Valley Conference school will get its first win on Friday night. Paxton-Buckley-Loda (0-3) travels to Kentland, Ind., to face South Newton (0-4). South Newton is leaving the SVC after this school year, with Seneca set to join the league in football for the 2018 season. PBL has won both of its previous SVC games against South Newton, which joined the conference in 2015.