There will be a lot on the line in Friday’s 7:10 p.m. pigskin showdown between Eureka and Fieldcrest from Veteran’s Park on Minonk’s northeast side. For starters, both teams are still in the hunt for the Heart of Illinois Conference’s large division title. In addition, both are trying to secure an opening round playoff game at home, each is attempting to extend winning streaks, break a tie in the all-time series (each has won four), while the Veteran’s Bowl trophy is also up for grabs.
“I’m hoping we get a great turnout,” Hornets’ head coach Jason Bachman said. “It’s one of those games where we match up quite well with each other. For me, it’s exciting. This is why you coach and play in these kinds of games.”
According to Knights’ coach Derek Schneeman, he anticipates the contest to have a November-like feel.
“I expect it to be a playoff atmosphere,” he forecasted. “There’s a lot of implications on the line. The further you go along the schedule, there’s more to play for.”
The Hornets (6-1, 2-1) enter on a five-game win streak, while the Knights (7-0, 3-0) are perfect overall and in the division.
Eureka brings in the league’s second best scoring offense with 249 points. They feature a quartet of juniors in quarterback Matt Martin (1.156 yards rushing, 469 rushing, responsible for 21 touchdowns), back Hunter Gladson (542 rushing yards) and receivers Aden Sears (24 catches, 519 yards) and Jett Bachman (21-328). Also in the mix is 6-foot-5 senior receiver Reuben Roberts (16-251). On the season, Eureka has amassed 2,422 yards of total offense (1,266 rush, 1,156 pass), an average of 346 per game.
“There’s a lot of things that concern me,” said Schneeman of having to deal with the Hornets’ offense. “First and foremost is the quarterback. Matt Martin is the best quarterback in the conference. He’s a true dual threat. He’s smart and elusive, but they have other weapons. They have a lot of ways to hurt you,”
Meanwhile, Fieldcrest has the HOIC’s top scoring offense with 261 points. Among their skill position players are senior quarterback Matt Lorton (1,027 yards), senior back Kenton Castrejon (926 rushing yards), junior receiver Jaxon Cusac-McKay (30-471) and senior wideout Tisen Covington (28-344). They have churned up 2,611 yards of total offense (1,369 via the ground, 1,242 through the air), an average of 373 per outing.
One area the Knights rely on is piling up yards after catch or yac for short.
“We’ve done a really good job with that,” commented Coach Bachman of tackling in space. “I think our athletes match up with their athletes. They put a good quarterback and good receivers out on the field. We put a good quarterback and good receivers out on the field.”
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The Hornets boast the league third best scoring defense, as they have yielded 62 points, which includes three shutouts.
“They do not have a weakness. Their d-(defensive) line is physical and fast. They’re gap sound and play low. Linebacker play has done well. Secondary is athletic. It’s a big challenge,” Schneeman said.
The HOIC’s top scoring defense belongs to the Knights (34 points), who have not permitted one than a touchdown to any foe through seven games.
“Just dealing with their pressure packages,” Bachman said. “They’re going to send pressure. It looks like they’re sending one linebacker each time. We have to make sure we’re ready to pick up their blitz packages,”
Whichever offense runs the ball best will likely go a long way as to the victor. Since the VB was created in 2014, the team that has gained the most rushing yards has come out on top. Fieldcrest won the trophy in ’14 and ’15, while Eureka took it in ’16 and has possessed it ever since.
“Rushing yards are huge,” pointed out Schneeman. “I think that’s a big part of it- who controls the line of scrimmage. Turnovers are huge. We turned it over way too many times last year. Hopefully, we can take care of the ball.”
Coach Bachman views it from another perspective.
“I think the telltale stat is who can make the big play and who can take away the big play,” stated the elder Bachman. “For us, we have to clean up the penalties and not make mistakes.”
Jason Bachman is in seventh season with the Hornets and has a 33-31 record. Eureka went 9-2 a season ago and made their third consecutive postseason appearance, which ended with a 33-28 loss to guest Monmouth-Roseville in the second round in three A. Schneeman is 42-18 in the midst of his sixth year at the helm of the Knights. They were 5-5 a season ago, as they fell 24-21 at Orion in round one of the two A playoffs.
Notes: The game will kick off a bit later than normal due to a pair of individuals that will parachute down from the sky with a U.S and Prisoner of War (POW) flags. According to Schneeman, Allen Harlan (knee) is listed as questionable. Both squads currently sit at 28 playoff points (figured by adding the total number of opponents’ wins). The Hornets are projected for 33 to 37, compared to 32 to 35 for the Knights. In the ’18 contest, host Eureka forced six Fieldcrest turnovers in a 24-14 victory.