EUREKA – Fieldcrest, winners of three in a row, venture southwest to Eureka, who has won their last five. The Veteran’s Bowl trophy is also at stake when the two Heart of Illinois Conference large division and county foes collide Friday evening with a 7 p.m. kickoff from McCollum Field.
Eureka is the current holder of the trophy, as they kept it with a 21-13 victory in week four of the 2017 campaign at McCollum that was not decided until the last possession. The Hornets will enter with a 6-1 record (2-1 in the division) and have earned a playoff berth for the third consecutive season, which has never happened in the history of the program.
“It’s kind of an indicator of the type of growth we’ve had,” Hornets’ coach Jason Bachman said. “When I started this, I wanted to grow, build a program and try to continue with the tradition. It feels great to make the playoffs three years in a row.”
Meanwhile, the game is very critical for the Knights (4-3, 1-2), who are battling to grab one of the 256 spots in the postseason.
“It’s a huge game if we want to qualify for the playoffs,” Knights’ coach Derek Schneeman commented. “It’s a must win for us.”
Fieldcrest has switched offensive philosophies to more of a run-first attack, as they have gained 641 yards over the last two games. Senior Michael Morse (18 receptions, 292 yards) has amassed all 45 of his carries and all 327 yards over the past two.
“What we’ve seen the last two weeks on film, we have noticed they’re running it a lot more,” pointed out Bachman. “They have athletes all over the field. They have kids who can make plays. We definitely feel like we have to contain their run game.”
This past week, Fieldcrest ran 72 plays (59 rush, 13 pass).
“Ideally, we want to be more balanced,” said Schneeman. “Against Ridgeview/Lexington, we went with what worked because we had an advantage on the (offensive) line. We’re going to have to throw it some because they’re (Eureka) defense is tough.”
Senior quarterback Tyler McKay has rushed for an even 300 yards and thrown for 1,051 through the air with 11 touchdowns. Senior Derek May has team-highs in receptions (20) and yards (296), while sophomore Jaxon Cusac-McKay checks in with 19 catches for 272 yards. The Knights have scored 223 points, which is second in the conference.
That is one point in front of Eureka’s offense, which has been spearheaded by sophomore signalcaller Matt Martin, who has produced 1,439 yards (770 passing, 669 rushing). Classmate Hunter Gladson has 77 carries for 419 yards out of the backfield. The hosts’ top pass catcher is senior Alex Brittain (18-245), who returned this past week after missing a game with a back injury.
One reason for the Hornets’ resurgence has been the play of the offensive line. Junior Joel Baer (225 pounds) is the lone returnee and is joined by classmates Andrew King and Sterling Spencer along with sophomores Thomas Cahill (250) and Conner McDonald.
“They’re tight. They’re there for each other,” said Bachman. “They’ve taken on the mindset of we have to get better and be there for each other. They’ll get stronger in the offseason and refine the techniques they’ve been using. Getting stronger is definitely going to be huge.”
Senior linebacker Teo Zamora leads the Knights with 73 tackles. As a group, Fieldcrest has allowed 142 points, which ranks seventh in the HOIC.
“The quarterback (Martin), he’s a really good all-around athlete,” Scheenman said. “He can run it, he can throw it. We’re going to have to account for him at all times.”
Eureka has permitted 105 points, which is second in the conference behind only Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley (18). The Hornets’ top tackler is Baer with 42.
According to Bachman, Brady Lenover (knee) is out for Friday, but could return for the playoffs. According to Schneeman, Micah Hurd (fractured fibula) is out for the remainder of the season, while Allen Harlan (knee) is doubtful for Friday.
Schneeman is 34-16 in his fifth season at Fieldcrest. The Knights were 7-3 a year ago, as they fell 40-0 at home to West Carroll in the opening round of the two A playoffs. Bachman is in his sixth year with the Hornets (24-30). Eureka went 6-4 for the second straight campaign and fell at Byron in the round of the 32 of the three A group by a final of 28-7. Fieldcrest leads the all-time series with the Hornets at four to three.
Notes: Fieldcrest held the Veteran’s trophy the first two seasons, ’14 and ’15. Eureka has scored 96 points to the Knights’ 81 over the four Veteran’s Bowl contests. Fieldcrest has 31 playoff points, which is calculated by totaling up the number of wins by their opponents. They are projected for anywhere from 38 to 40. Eureka is entertaining thoughts of playing a first round game at McCollum, which has not occurred since 1989.