Plenty on the line

Plenty on the line

Sages brace for unbeaten foes
MONTICELLO — Playoff pairings won't come out until Oct. 21.

Monticello, however, might know by the end of September how great its chances are of hosting a Class 3A first-round playoff game.

Starting this Friday night, the Sages play two of the top 3A teams in the state — Monticello is included in that group as well — each of the next two Friday nights.

Monticello (4-0), ranked third in the latest 3A Associated Press poll, hosts No. 6 Bloomington Central Catholic (4-0) at 7 p.m. on Friday before traveling to play at No. 2 Unity (4-0) on Sept. 29.

"We've had this scenario in previous years," Monticello coach Cully Welter said, "where we've either had Unity and St. Joseph-Ogden back-to-back or Unity, SJ-O and Maroa-Forsyth back-to-back-to-back. It's going to happen at times. You certainly prefer it to be spread out, but we'll get ready."

The Sages have outscored their first four foes 193-19. Don't expect another rout the rest of the month, though.

"That's going to be the key question is how we will respond when we get punched in the mouth because BCC will do that at some point," Welter said. "The last two weeks we've really come out strong and focused, and I expect that to continue."

A diverse offense and a stout defense are reasons why Monticello is once again among the best in the area. Junior quarterback Braden Snyder is the area's passing leader, having completed 55 of 69 passes (80 percent) for 907 yards, 12 touchdowns and one interception while adding 167 rushing yards on 25 carries and four touchdowns. Senior running back Lucas Lieb (264 rushing yards on 33 carries, five TDs), along with wide receivers Dylan Thomas (13 catches for 260 yards, three TDs), Asher Bradd (17 catches for 233 yards, five TDs), Devin Graham (nine catches for 170 yards, two TDs) and Alek Bundy (six catches for 154 yards, two TDs) add to the offensive dynamic for the Sages.

Monticello has had the top two leading pass catchers in the area each of the last two seasons. Nathan Graham and Isiah Florey held that title in 2016, while Noah Freemon and Tyus Welter did so in 2015.

"The difference this year compared to the past couple years is our depth," Cully Welter said. "This year, you feel like any of those guys could have a breakout game. It's nice to spread the wealth around.

Chargers play tonight in Peoria
CHAMPAIGN — Thursday night football is here. At least for this week.

Centennial will now play Peoria Manual at Peoria Stadium tonight instead of Friday night, Centennial athletic director Tony Millard said on Wednesday afternoon.

The two Big 12 teams were slated to play at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, with Peoria hosting Bloomington at roughly 7:30 p.m. at Peoria Stadium after the Centennial-Manual game ended. Millard said that idea was nixed a few weeks ago.

Instead, the Chargers (1-3) will face the Rams (0-4) at 6 p.m. today at Peoria Stadium.

"We've had enough advance warning that our kids and our coaches are going to adjust just fine," Millard said. "We'll just have a little bit different practice schedule heading into next week's game against Danville."

Millard said playing either on Thursday night or on Saturday were among the options discussed until tonight's kickoff was agreed upon. Centennial, which enters the game against Manual on a two-game losing skid after defeats to Champaign Central and Normal West at Tommy Stewart Field, does not have school on Thursday because of a fall holiday, so players won't have to leave classes any earlier to make the bus ride to Peoria. It is Centennial's first trip since opening the season on Aug. 25 with a 47-14 loss at Bradley-Bourbonnais.

Both Peoria Manual and Peoria use Peoria Stadium, with Peoria Notre Dame occasionally playing at the venerable venue, as well.

Millard said he can relate since Centennial and Champaign Central use Tommy Stewart Field during the season.

"It's the same type of logistics in Peoria that we have to deal with here," Millard said, "and knowing who can play at home when."

Maroons prep for Indiana foe
CHAMPAIGN — The last two seasons in Big 12 play have featured all 11 conference members playing eight league games.

That leaves room for one nonconference game. And for the second straight year, that means Champaign Central is facing off against an Indiana team in Week 5.

Last year, the Maroons traveled nearly three hours to play at Gary (Ind.) Roosevelt, coming home with a 50-6 win.

"It was not a good matchup last year," Central coach Nate Albaugh said. "We were looking for a better matchup this year."

Enter Rensselaer (Ind.) Central. The Bombers (4-1) will meet the Maroons (1-3) at 7 p.m. on Friday at Tommy Stewart Field, making the two-hour drive to Champaign.

"It's hard to fill that game," Albaugh said. "With Indiana, everybody makes the playoffs, so Rensselaer was willing to take on the challenge."

Albaugh's Maroons will try and continue the good vibes that flowed after last Friday's convincing 42-6 win against Centennial.

"That was win a shot in the arm," Albaugh said.

Sophomore running back Connor Milton — who has 529 rushing yards on 57 carries and five touchdowns this season to go along; 193 receiving yards on 10 catches and two TDs — and junior quarterback Luke McMahon (16 of 30 for 401 yards, three TDs this season) enjoyed strong offensive games against the Chargers.

But Central's defense played well, too, an encouraging sign for Albaugh.

"We were thrilled with our defense," Albaugh said. "The kids were well-prepared, and we felt like that week, more than any other, they had done their homework. It was great to see it play out for the first time on the field this season."

The unbalanced nature of the Big 12 is the reason why teams are left to scramble and find a nonconference opponent. A nine-game conference schedule wouldn't work since one team would get left out every week.

Hence, the need to find a nonconference opponent in the middle of the season for the Maroons the last two seasons. Next year, Central opens up with a nonconference in-state foe in perennial playoff power Metamora. But for this week, Central's focus is on Rensselaer Central.

"It's cool to get a look at someone you don't know aobut and someone the kids have never heard of," Albaugh said. "It makes everyone pay attention more."