'This is a big game'

'This is a big game'

Vikings brace for Normal Community
DANVILLE — The first trip to Normal didn't end well this season for Danville.

The Vikings are hoping the second excursion to the heart of McLean County ends with a happier bus ride home.

In the area's marquee matchup of Week 8, Danville (6-1, 5-1 Big 12) plays at Normal Community (7-0, 6-0) at 7 p.m. Friday, with Big 12 title implications at stake. Danville's lone loss this season happened in Week 5, falling 76-35 at Normal West.

If Danville can knock off the Ironmen — the state's fourth-ranked team in Class 7A — the possibility exists for the Vikings to share a Big 12 championship.

Many other factors have to happen in order for Danville to get back into the conference championship race. But the one right in front of Danville coach Marcus Forrest's program is knocking off the Ironmen, who have won 13 straight regular season games dating back to last season.

"We're excited about this opportunity," Forrest said. "Like I told the guys earlier this week, 'What do we have to lose if we go out and play well? If we go out and lose, we're 6-2, but still in the playoffs. If we go in and win, we could shake up the conference chase. Needless to say, this is a big game."

Since their only loss this season, Danville has won two straight, easily winning 51-7 at Centennial and beating defending Class 5A state champion Peoria 49-26 last Friday night at Whitesell Field. Peoria played without Illinois quarterback commit Coran Taylor — out with an injury — but Danville's defense held the Lions to their lowest point total of the season. Peoria was averaging 68.2 points prior to its game at Danville.

"I was extremely pleased with our defense, whether Peoria had its quarterback or not," Forrest said. "Their line blocks well, and they still had two exceptional running backs. We gang-tackled and ran to the ball well. That's what we've been preaching all season long is that we want everybody around the ball, and that's what happened against Peoria."

Normal Community is a prolific offense, too. The Ironmen are averaging 49.3 points and have scored at least 43 points in every game this season.

"We're going up against an extremely good, extremely efficient and extremely productive team," Forrest said. "They're aggressive, and they do everything well on both sides."

The Vikings aren't a pushover, though. Senior running back Jerry Reed has rushed for a team-high 705 yards and 12 touchdowns on 89 carries this season, while senior quarterback Ernest Plummer has blossomed in his first year as the starter. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Plummer has completed 43 of 78 passes for 629 yards, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions and has added 487 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 72 carries.

And the defense — with the exception of the loss at Normal West — has thrived.

The Vikings have only yielded one touchdown in the last five games. Illinois commit and defensive end Julian Pearl, along with Reed, both lead Danville with 61 tackles. The emergence of senior defensive lineman Day'len Davis-Williams (46 tackles), senior linebacker William Coleman (42 tackles) and sophomore linebackers John Ward (42 tackles) Bennie Harris (34 tackles) has played a key role, too.

"Jerry has been a stalwart for us on both sides of the ball," Forrest said. "The Normal West game helped us learn how the level of intensity has to step up compared to other games. We now know we always have to play hard defensively."

Panthers still have chance at playoffs
PAXTON — Going into Week 4 without a win didn't exactly breed much confidence of Paxton-Buckley-Loda reaching the playoffs this season.

But the Panthers have produced quite a turnaround in the last month.

PBL (4-3, 2-1 Sangamon Valley) carries a four-game win streak into its 7 p.m. kickoff on Saturday at Watseka/St. Anne (6-1, 2-1).

"The past month has been a lot better than the first three weeks, that's for sure," PBL coach Jeff Graham said with a laugh. "Things are always better when you win."

That's exactly what PBL has done, relying on a quick-strike offense and a stout defense. It's not like the Panthers lost to average teams, either. Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley and Westville — PBL's first two losses — are still undefeated at 7-0 and Clifton Central, which knocked off PBL in the Panthers' SVC opener, has won five straight and sits atop the SVC standings.

"Our attitudes have been good the entire time," Graham said. "That's one of the reasons why we're at where we are right now."

The development of senior quarterback Will Pound has helped, too. The 6-foot, 160-pound senior is 38 of 82 for 645 yards, eight touchdowns and three interceptions and leads the Panthers in rushing with 510 yards and eight touchdowns on 60 carries.

"There's several reads in our offense that we incorporate in our quarterback position and he's shown progress in making his reads," Graham said. "But just as important is his fight and effort have really been nice to see. I think Will has improved from week to week with his overall knowledge of playing there, and he tops that off with his continued effort."

Senior nose guard Alex Pippin has a team-high 46 tackles and is the clear leader of the Panthers' defense. Contributions from senior linebacker Dylan Polson (43 tackles), sophomore linebacker Dalton Busboom (30 tackles), senior linebacker Ben McClure, senior defensive end Brandon Scott and junior defensive end Jake Rich, among others, have allowed PBL to shore up its defense.

"It really starts with Alex up front, but a lot of teams double team him or even triple team him," Graham said. "Everyone else, though, has done a nice job executing and taking care of their position."

All of which has made a fourth straight playoff appearance a possibility. Standing in the way this week are the Warriors, whose six-game win streak was snapped last Friday by Clifton Central. Watseka/St. Anne features one of the more dynamic quarterbacks not only in the SVC, but in the area — senior Brendan Fletcher. Fletcher has thrown for 787 yards and rushed for 457 yards while accounting for 24 total touchdowns.

"They are really good, obviously," Graham said. "They are a fast, diverse team and they're physical. This is a great game to really see where we're at, and there's not a better way to see where we stand than playing a really quality team late in the season."

Odds and ends around the area
While eight area teams have already clinched playoff berths, three teams currently 5-2 — Arcola, Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin and Arcola — could join the six-win club on Friday. ... For VG/H, the Blue Devils have won four in a row and play at Cumberland (6-1) in a game that will determine the Little Okaw Valley Southeast champion. Both teams are 4-0 in league play. ... In the LOVC Northwest, Argenta-Oreana (6-1, 4-0) can win the league title outright with a win at Decatur Lutheran (6-1, 3-1) on Friday.