MINONK – When West Carroll last came to Veteran’s Park, it turned out be a nightmare for Fieldcrest. In the opening round of the 2017 two A football playoffs, the Thunder blanked the Knights 40-0. They held the hosts to just 95 yards of total offense and forced five turnovers. WC converted four of the five takeaways into a total of 26 points.
So, is revenge on the minds of the Heart of Illinois Conference large division champions?
“Yeah, I think so,” answered Fieldcrest head coach Derek Schneeman. “We have a number of guys who started or played a considerable amount of snaps. They remember how that season ended.”
The Thunder again come calling to VP for a first round contest Friday evening with a 6 p.m. kickoff.
The ’17 game was held on a Saturday afternoon, but both teams agreed to a Friday contest under the lights.
“Two years ago, I remember Coach (Matt) Leitzen saying they would be interesting in playing on Friday,” recalled Schneeman. “It’s sweet. I was hoping they wanted to play on Friday again. We moved up the starting time because of the long drive.”
WC, who finished in fourth place in the South Division of the Northwest Upstate Illini Conference, brings in a 5-4 record. They are 2-3 on the road. The Thunder is 0-3 against playoff opponents (undefeated Forreston, Durand/Pecatonica and unbeaten Freeport Aquin). Senior quarterback Derek Tracy has thrown for 725 yards and rushed for 573, but has completed just 53 percent of his passes (57 of 107). Their top ground gainer is senior Aiden Sullivan (758 yards). Two others at the skill positions are senior back Kody Sipe (370 rushing yards) and senior receiver Michael Popkin (23 catches, 273 yards).
One area the Thunder has struggled with is turnovers, as they have 19 (10 fumbles lost, nine interceptions). That is something the Knights will try to exploit.
“I hope so. We’ve done a good job with fumble recoveries and interceptions,” pointed out Schneeman said.
WC, who uses multiple formations, has scored 192 points on the season and 2,587 yards of total offense (287.4 per game).
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They’ll line up against a Knights’ defense that surrendered just 58 points through the regular season. The most they have allowed in a game is 17.
WC lines up out of a 4-3 on defense, a unit that has allowed 137 points. The Thunder has permitted 2,083 yards of total offense (231.4). Their only shutout came against Milledgeville. WC has triggered 16 turnovers by the opposition.
The Thunder will face a Fieldcrest (9-0) offense that has scored 316 points and churned up 3,243 yards of total offense (1,763 rushing, 1,480 passing) for an average of 360.3 per game.
According to Schneeman, the offensive plan is the same as always: establish the run game and then go aerial.
“It’s kind of been our MO (modus operandi),” he said. “We’re not going to run anything that they have not seen before. We have to take care of the ball. We’ve had eight turnovers over our last five games.”
Leitzen is in his fifth season at WC with a 24-23 record. This is the Thunder’s sixth playoff appearance (2-5 record). In ’18, they went 3-6. The ’17 postseason encounter is the only meeting between the programs.
With only 24 players on the entire roster coupled with the speed and size that’s on the hosts’ sideline, WC could wither during the second half.
“I would like to think so,” admitted Schneeman. “They might be undersized, but they’re physical because of the conference they play in. Hopefully, our size and our ability to shuttle guys in and out will wear them down.”
The winner advances to the second round likely against Elgin St. Edward, who will be awarded a forfeit victory over Orr due to the continuation of the strike of the Chicago City Schools.
Notes: WC is based in the Carroll County seat of Savanna, which is located in the extreme northwestern portion of the state along the Mississippi River near the Iowa border. Tracy has thrown just three touchdowns compared to his nine picks. Last year, he had 14 interceptions. Fieldcrest is making the program’s 14th postseason appearance with a 4-13 record. All four wins have come under Schneeman. The Knights have a 3-6 home record in playoff contests, but are 3-1 under Schneeman. Of the 16 opening round two A games, the only other one being played on Friday is Nokomis/Ramsey on the road versus Fithian Oakwood.