GIBSON CITY — As usual, Friday’s 1 p.m. Class 2A state championship football game at DeKalb will pair opponents with unusual assets.
The suspense of waiting to see whose weapons prevail should keep fans of No. 2-ranked Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley High School (13-0) and No. 7 Maroa-Forsyth (12-1) on the edge of their Huskie Stadium seats.
The contest will be televised on NBC Sports Chicago.
GCMS is making its first title game trip while Maroa-Forsyth is making its seventh since 2006. In last year's final, the 2006 and 2012 champion Trojans lost to Deer Creek-Mackinaw.
GCMS coach Mike Allen is impressed by the speed of Maroa-Forsyth, which dropped a 47-6 contest to Williamsville.
“They are the best team we’ve seen on film,” he said. “They are more dimensional than any team we’ve seen. Their line gets off the ball quick. On the defensive side, they just swarm to the ball.”
The Trojans are led by all-state running back Deondre Gregory, a 5-foot-8, 165-pound senior in his third year as a starter. He has carried 158 times for 1,630 yards and 29 touchdowns.
“He’s got great vision,” said Coach Josh Jostes, who has a 165-52 record in 18 years at Maroa-Forsyth. “He’s got great balance. He runs very physical for a little guy. He catches the ball well out of the backfield.”
Quarterback Ian Benner, a 6-2, 165-pound sophomore, has completed 137 of 205 passes (67 percent) for 2,082 yards and 23 TDs. He’s been intercepted six times, but only once in the past 10 games.
“They throw so many things at you, I don’t know if you could pinpoint a couple things to stop,” said Allen, who likens Maroa-Forsyth to Eureka, which lost to GCMS, 41-7.
“One time they’ll run their slip screen and the bubble out, a counter, an option… They just throw so many things at you. It becomes a chess match at that time and hopefully you make the right move.”
Maroa-Forsyth lines up in shotgun formation with receivers Kam Boline (561 yards), Aaron Inda (494) and Max Davenport (423) spread wide.
“They have athletes where they just try to get them out in the open field and let them play,” Allen said. “So our secondary has to play a big game for us and the line has to put pressure on the quarterback to give us a chance.”
Like Huskie Stadium, Maroa-Forsyth has an artificial turf field. The Falcons’ only game on such a surface produced a 45-18 win at El Paso-Gridley.
“Our kids aren’t used to playing on it so we’re going to have to adjust to that,” said Allen, who believes the Heart of Illinois Conference has prepared his team well.
“We have a lot of great coaches in the HOI. They prepare their teams well and I think that helps us prepare for the playoffs.”
Allen credits friendships among conference coaches for making it easy to share scouting reports on nonconference opponents.
The Falcons are led by four-year starter Mitch McNutt, who has rushed 160 times for 1,550 yards and 29 touchdowns. Lopsided scores have allowed McNutt to rest the second half of most games.
“They have great team speed,” Jostes said. “They look like every kid they have can run. They are not huge by any means, but each kid I look at is 6-2, 220. It’s like they have a bunch of clones there.”
GCMS quarterback Nathan Garard has passed for 968 yards and rushed for 246. His favorite target is Ryland Holt with 16 catches for 413 yards and 10 TDs.
“Their quarterback appears to be a very good athlete,” Jostes said. “He’s played well in the games I’ve seen. He’s another piece of that puzzle we’re going to have to attempt to slow down.”
The Falcons score 42.6 points per game and allow 6.2, while Maroa-Forsyth averages 40.6 and allows 16.9. Tanner Falk, a 180-pound linebacker, leads the Trojans with 74 tackles. The GCMS tackle leaders are Luke Freehill (113), Josh Bleich (94) and Barnes (76).