MINONK – Plagued by 18 turnovers last season, the Fieldcrest offense will try to cut that number down significantly.

“You look back at the games we had, outside of GCMS (Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley), we were in every game,” recalled head coach Derek Schneeman. “We have to take care of the ball. As a staff, we’re harping on that. You cannot turn the ball over three and four times and expect to win.”

The Knights were 5-5 in 2018, as they qualified for the playoffs, but dropped a 24-21 at Orion in the opening round in two A. The hosts grabbed a lasting lead with 37 seconds left. Fieldcrest lost three-time first team Heart of Illinois Conference receiver Derek May (30 catches, 415 yards), receiver/back Michael Morse (540 yards rushing, 23-347) and quarterback Tyler McKay (1,541 yards passing and 415 rushing) to graduation.

“When you look back at our games last year, it’s a play here and there. Instead of 5-5, we could have been 8-1,” Schneeman commented. “The margin for error is really small.”

They do return seven starters on offense headed by junior wideout Jaxon Cusac-McKay (27-381), a pair of senior linemen in guard Mason Faulk (280 pounds), a first team league choice, and tackle Cam Milashoski (290), along with senior running back Kenton Castrejon (305 yards) and senior receiver Keegan Robbins. Others back on the o-line are seniors Thomas Milton (center) and senior Parker Ruestman (285, tackle). Collectively, Fieldcrest scored 284 points a season ago (28.4 per contest), which was fourth in the conference.

According to Schneeman, he plans on using both senior Matt Lorton and junior Cory Land at quarterback in Friday’s 7 p.m. opener with host Braidwood Reed-Custer. Whichever one plays better will likely be the starter in week two.

On defense, Fieldcrest did graduate leading tackler in linebacker Teo Zamora (109) along with T. McKay (70), Jared Seggerman (68) and Morse (61). They do return seven starters highlighted by Faulk, Milashoski, Milton, Ruestman, Castrejon (linebacker), Cusac-McKay (secondary) and Robbins (secondary), who has a team-best returning 55 tackles. The Knights allowed 196 points (19.6), which was fourth fewest in the conference.

“We bring back quite a bit, but we’re replacing three linebackers,” noted Schneeman, who is in his sixth season at Fieldcrest with a 35-18 record. “The guys we have, a couple have started at least one game. We’re not totally inexperienced. We just do not have a lot of guys with a bunch of reps. We have to break guys in pretty quickly.”

Junior Jacob Joyal will again be the placekicker.

GCMS (14-0, 5-0), who has won the last two titles in two A, is the reigning large division champion. The Falcons must replace 16 starters, while Eureka (9-2) welcomes back 18.

“Everything starts with (GCMS),” said Schneeman. “Eureka with what all they have coming back and what they did last year. Tri-Valley is always at the top, The difference between going 5-5 and pushing for the top of the (division) is not far off.”

The Comets of BR-C were 2-7 last season and are under the direction of second-year head coach Gavin Johnston. They are members of the inaugural Illinois Central Eight Conference. Among their returnees are senior wide receiver-defensive back Blake Foster, senior linebacker John Cowie and junior defensive tackle Brendon Williams. Fieldcrest won the previous meeting between the programs 34-20 in the ’18 opener.

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“It’s really fun group to be around,” said Schneeman of his squad, “They work hard. They work well together. They’re a real fun group to coach. They just want to win on Friday nights.”

The remainder of the schedule is as follows (all games will kick off @ 7 p.m. unless noted):

Sept. 6: versus Tri-Valley* @ Downs

Sept. 13: vs. Tremont

Sept. 20: vs. GCMS*

Sept. 28: vs. Illini West @ Carthage, 2 p.m.

Oct. 4: vs. Deer Creek-Mackinaw*

Oct. 11: vs. Ridgeview/Lexington @ Lexington

Oct. 18: vs. Eureka*

Oct. 25: @ El Paso-Gridley*

*-division contest

Notes: Dwight will be the Knights’ week one opponent in ’20, which will be a road contest. Castrejon, Faulk, Lorton and Robbins will serve as captains. The HOIC’s lone new coach is Luke Drone at EP-G.

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