Five local football teams to play at Memorial Stadium

Five local football teams to play at Memorial Stadium

CHAMPAIGN — Football teams from Centennial, Unity, Urbana, St. Thomas More and Rantoul will be among eight to compete at Saturday games in Memorial Stadium during the 2018 season.

The University of Illinois announced Monday it would host the games, which will occur the day after the Illini's Sept. 21 tilt against Penn State.

Centennial will take on Peoria Notre Dame at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 22, to start the slate. Following that will be showdowns between Olympia and Unity at 1 p.m., Bloomington and Urbana at 4 p.m., and St. Thomas More and Rantoul at 7 p.m.

Memorial Stadium will also serve as home to the prep football state championship games in November.

Unity coach and athletic director Scott Hamilton said Illinois officials reached out to him either late in the 2017 season or shortly after its conclusion about the prospect of moving a Rockets game to Memorial Stadium.

"I think it works out great for everybody in our community," Hamilton said, noting Unity has participated in a few other regular-season affairs at Memorial Stadium during his 24-year tenure leading the Rockets. "It's a big game for the U of I, and now that allows people to not have to pick and choose. People can still do the U of I game Friday and still see our game Saturday."

Hamilton said the only downside from his institution's perspective was rescheduling Unity's homecoming bout. It was slated for Sept. 21 against Olympia, but had to be moved once the Rockets accepted Illinois' invite.

Despite that, Hamilton said the school's band, chain gang and press-box officials will all work the event as they would if it was in Tolono. Unity also will receive a share of the gate and other receipts produced during the game.

"I think it's a good experience for everybody," Hamilton said. "It's neat for the community. Our kids get an opportunity to play on the turf in that environment, which is cool."

Hamilton last led a group of Rockets onto Zuppke Field in 2012, for the Class 3A state title game against Aurora Christian. The Rockets dropped a 42-12 decision.

Hamilton said he hasn't thought so much about urging his squad to use this regular-season game at Memorial Stadium as inspiration for getting back later in the season, but that option certainly is in play.

"It'll be an opportunity," he said. "We've played three or four different times there in the regular season, and it's always been great for us."

Tickets are available the day of the games for $5 at Memorial Stadium, and parking is free. Lots will open at 8:30 a.m., with doors opening at 9 and tailgating available in Grange Grove.