Gridiron Greetings from the road, everybody. This time of year, your friendly neighborhood Sports Department is running in every which direction with barely a minute to gather ourselves and take a breath. There is no relent in the schedule and precious little time to devote to anything beyond simply keeping our head above water. In that spirit, Duerrisms is being delivered to you from here on out in mini-version. Best we can do on a short clock with playoff games every night. My aim this week is to preview up through Monday's District Championship Games in Missouri and hope for the best beyond that.
As always, our thanks to GAMEMASTERS for their support and patronage of this endeavor.
A reminder to all you social media users out there: you can follow me on Twitter ( https://twitter.com/ChrisDuerr ) for instant feedback, scores as the happen, and stories as they break in real time on Twitter. And if you are up late on Friday Night after the games, the Pigskin Party continues for KHQA on our Facebook site ( http://www.facebook.com/KHQAChrisDuerr ) We are there until Midnight delivering opinions and sharing your observations and comments on the night's action. Plus it's your chance to vote on our Star of the Week Poll, the winner of which is unveiled below every week in this column. We've got something akin to 2300 Twitter Followers and 2400 Facebook users on those specific sites, so come join the party with us. It's fun and easy and I guarantee you it will heighten your enjoyment of local sports.
KHQA STUDENT ATHLETE OF THE WEEK presented by CELL TECH, PETERS HEATING and AIR, and SUBWAY
Now in its eighth year of existence, the KHQA Student Athlete of the Week Award celebrates the best and brightest examples of achievement in Tri State Athletics. Every Wednesday Night at 6:00pm, we will profile a deserving senior selected from a pool of applicants by our independent nominating committee. It's a look beyond just their highlights into the mindset and determination that make these young men and women successful in all that they do; a reminder to all of you just how much good there is out there to be celebrated in this generation. And at year's end, we will once again award scholarships to the top boys and girls scholar athletes in our area.
If you know of a deserving senior who sports a minimum 3.5 GPA, please contact your high school athletic director and have them fill out a form on that student's behalf. Or help expedite the process yourself by printing a nomination form from our website (which can be found on the Student Athlete of the Week Page) and turning it in to your local athletic director so that they can submit it to us. Our next nominating session is in Early December, at which point we will pick 12 more honorees from the pool of seniors. The window of opportunity to nominate a deserving applicant is closing fast. We don't want to miss anyone in the process and sincerely hope you will help us out in that spirit.
Week One: DALTON POWELL, Hannibal High Football/Basketball/Baseball
Week Two: INDIA GREEN, Quincy High Volleyball
Week Three: JILL HARRIS, Beardstown Softball/Volleyball/Basketball
Week Four: CARLI WATSON, Hannibal Volleyball
Week Five: HANNAH TRUMP, Clark County Softball/Basketball
Past Scholarship Winners
2012: ALEX WALTER, Central High (Augustana College)
TORI KUHN, Quincy Notre Dame (Lindenwood College)
2011: JACOB CONLEY, Central High (U.S. Military Academy at West Point)
DAKOTA FLESNER, Payson Seymour (John Wood Community College)
2010: MICHAEL LAFFERTY, Illini West (Monmouth College)
TAYLOR BAXTER, Palmyra (Illinois State)
2009: MATT PATTERSON, South Shelby (Truman State)
CHLOE BARNES, Quincy Notre Dame (Ball State University)
2009: LUKE GUTHRIE, Quincy High (University of Illinois)
2007: KATELYN BASTERT, Illini West (Duke University)
2006: MIKAL BENECOMO, Clopton (Southeast Missouri State)
KHQA CO-STARS OF THE WEEK
(As voted by you the fans on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/KHQAChrisDuerr )
DOUGLAS WEESE, Central-Southeastern
WES CRAMSEY, Highland High School
Super tight race this week between Highland's Wes Cramsey and Central-Southeastern's Douglas Weese. So much so, that I admitted didn't get to check the chance to check the voting totals at the deadline on Wednesday (pesky MSHSAA High School Football kept up from the internet until 2 hours later) so we are declaring a rare tie, in the interest of fairness.
And after all, both gentlemen are rather deserving. Weese has been the quiet storm behind so much of the Panthers success. For all the well deserved attention Dalton Heubner has received on offense, I would argue that Weese has been every bit the impact player at the heart of the CSE Defense. He is as quick to the football as anyone you will find this season and arrives with bad intentions when he gets there. He's naturally a Defensive Back by trade and I would argue under that more fair rubric, he belongs mentioned among the ten best run support players, from the back tier, of the last decade. Beyond Aaron Bergeson, Caleb Bieniek, and Javis Vineyard, I could not come up with another run support DB who I liked better than Weese. He's a darned fine pass defender, as Argenta-Oreana found out the hard way on Saturday afternoon after Weese picked the Bombers twice. He also did his usual outstanding work on offense, delivering 112 rushing yards on just 17 carries, including the game clinching 52 yard Touchdown. He plays the game with enormous passion and I would argue even for the attention he's got, he is still likely the least fully appreciated "star" play we have in Western Illinois Football. I am not sure there are many people Brad Dixon would trade straight up for the kid.
Rising junior Wes Cramsey earned his stripes here by supplying the finishing touch in Highland's "upset" win at Clopton-Elsberry. Granted Palmrya derailed the Cougars Cinderella journey on Wednesday, but in the five weeks prior to that end, Highland was playing as inspired as any team in Northeast Missouri. Wes proved to be a key counterpunch in that equation. While teams were focused on Chris Sparks and Derick Smith (who himself was luminous in Clarksville with 138 yards, 7 tackles, and 2 interceptions) our guy Wes supplied the finishing touch to tenderize the IndianHawk Defense with 102 yards on just 13 carries and a pair of touchdowns of 20 and 13 yards to punctuate Highland's biggest win in years. For the hopeful Highland fans out there, Cramsey's production was a glimpse into the future. When Sparks and Smith are in college next year, Cramsey will become the likely feature back and he's got the chops to be a very good one. He's a tough kid with the ability to escape tackles and the versatility to be a heck of a dual threat weapon in the passing game. This might be the first time some of you are hearing Cramsey's name but projecting forward, it won't be the last. Highland certainly appears to be a program that turned a corner of sorts this season. The future, on the shoulders of kids like Wes Cramsey, appears to be far brighter than at any time in recent memory.
Week One: ANDRE REYNOLDS, Macon
Week Two: TYLER STEINKAMP, Mark Twain
Week Three: BROCK BUTLER, Palmyra
Week Four: TYLER STEINKAMP, Mark Twain
Week Five: JUSTIN PRICE, Hannibal
Week Six: ADAM VEITH, Brown County
Week Seven: BRADY LONG, Brown County
Week Eight: BRADY LONG, Brown County
Week Nine: DILAN PARRISH, Palmyra
IHSA SECOND ROUND MATCHUPS
1A: MOWEAQUA CENTRAL A&M (9-1) at CONCORD TRIOPIA (9-1)
After waltzing through Mount Olive last weekend, the Trojans find themselves in much deeper waters against perennial powerhouse Central A&M, in what is a first ever dream coupling of traditionally outstanding programs. The Raiders only loss this season came at the hands of Class 1A de facto favorite Maroa-Forsyth in a 39-36 shootout. And make no mistake about it, this will be the sternest defensive test the Trojans have faced all season as Central A&M has powered their run-based spread offense (think Florida Gators) to the tune of rolling up 41.3 points per game. Curtis Ramsey, the coach's son, is the Quarterback and he's apparently a tremendous dual threat, per Rich Thompson, which will put the little tested Triopia Secondary under some scrutiny in play action, but for the most part the Raiders seek to spread out a defense to create better running lanes to attack. Central A&M also has a terrific running back to go along with him in Zack Ballinger. What's worrisome here is this is a scheme that WIVC Competition rarely presents. By the same token, Triopia has (A) not allowed a single point since the CSE loss and (B) has a similar advantage in running the Wing-T, which isn't exactly a scheme those Okaw Valley teams deal with much anymore. From all I can gather, the Raiders seem to hang their hat on their high powered offense. Defensively, the numbers aren't overly impressive (albeit against very good competition) Central A&M appears to have good size, but this doesn't appear to be particularly fast or reactive defensive, which would allow the Trojans some ability to do what they do, both with multiple running backs coming out of the chute from various attack angles and with Tanner Huddleston really at the top of his game right now in play action. There are undeniably, some advantages here that work back in Triopia's favor as well: the dominant level that Dakota Longley is playing at right now on Defense, the improved health of superstar back Derek Schone, the momentum of an Offensive Line coming of its best game of the season (even without injured Sophomore mauler Jordan Smith) By the same token, it would disingenuous for me to suggest anything other than the fact that Central A&M is the favorite coming into this game. This is a real moment of truth for Triopia's players and one of those great opportunities for Rich Thompson and Andy Phelps to game plan "up hill." Bottom line, they have proven to be phenomenal in those spots before: see also the impossible Tuscola upset in route to a state championship a few years ago. This is that level challenge. Anxious to see if the Trojans are once again equal to the task.
2A: CERRO GORDO-BEMENT (10-0) at CENTRAL-SOUTHEASTERN (10-0)
Not that the proud Panther kids need any reminding but this was the point of exit a year ago; a game that still galls Brad Dixon and his holdover (okay who am I kidding...the alums as well) to this day. And the challenge this Saturday is no less stringent than it was a year ago against Williamsville. Cerro Gordo is a legit power player in the 2A dance with some quality victories to its credit (see also Villa Grove and the jack hammerings of Lawrenceville and Arthur Lovington) and the Broncos have a tremendous enviable offensive attack led by stellar Tailback Steve Isbell ( http://www.channel1050.com/Ten-Question-Tuesday-Steve-Isbell/14330934 ) who has drawn favorable comparisons from Brad Dixon to former CSE Superstar Garrett Kestner. Granted, the kid isn't built quite as durably as "The Human Muscle" (then again, who is) but like Garrett, it is impossible not to like the speed and certainity with which Isbell hits a hole and the nastiness with which he finishes his runs. The kid had a 290 yard effort against Arcola and he is clearly Threat Number One for the Panthers going forward. The Broncos also have a pretty nifty, though not nearly as celebrated, play action passing game to go along with Isbell and a bruising fullback, thanks to the growth of Quarterback Cole Blicksenderfer. Point blank, this is a very sizable challenge. That established, in a week where its not inconceivable that we could lose all five remaining Illinois Playoff Qualifiers, I still think the Panthers have the best chance of survival. I love the way the Panther Defense is playing right now, especially with Douglas Weese covering ground at such a ridiculous rate and Drew Miller playing the best football of his life up front to put teeth into the Panther Defense. Central-Southeastern is going to be well served playing run oriented football teams, regardless of who they are and I think Brad Dixon schemes versus talent at an incredibly high level. He's become the Quentin Hamner of the East Side of the river and I do think CSE can limit Cerro Gordo-Bement's typically potent offense in much the same way Villa Grove did. Bottom line, CSE's team Defensive Team speed is the great equalizer. The key here is to hold CG-B to 24 or less points, which I think is more than doable. The onus then falls on CSE's Offensive Line to continue to produce and showcase the speed of Weese and Heubner and the tenacity of Bobby Keltz inside. I also see Seth Leezer playing with as much confidence right now as at any point this season. On paper, there should not be a single Western Illinois team I like to win on Saturday but for reasons tangible and intangible, I really do like the Panthers in this spot. This is a team playing its best football at the right. Playing uncommonly healthy. And playing with great confidence and a bit of a chip on its shoulder. The old boxing adage is that styles make fights. I don't dispute that Cerro Gordo-Bement has great weapons, nor do I pretend to think they won't have some level of success. But in the end I think CSE's Defensive team speed, particularly at Linebacker, and the ability this team has to take away running lanes wins the day. I may be terribly wrong but I feel good about this hunch.
2A: CLIFTON CENTRAL (9-1) AT ILLINI WEST (8-2)
Tim Lafferty has known and respected Clifton Central Coach Brian Spooner since the LaHarpe Northwestern days and has been quick to point out, without sugar coating, that this game will be a next level challenge for his football team. The Comets only loss came against an outstanding, then undefeated St Joe-Ogden squad (a team, by the way, whose only loss came against a red hot Monmouth Roseville club; the same Titan club that also handed IW one of its two defeats.) The things that tend to concern you about Clifton Central, on first blush, is their scoring defense (just nine points a game surrendered against very credible competition) and their size up front. Neither of these factors, however, are particular deal breakers when it comes to Illini West potentially pulling the upset. The Chargers can match size with Central in the trenches and just about every other 2A team in the state. And the IW offensive system is so unique that defenses that haven't defended against it tend to be a disadvantage. I think Illini West will score points here. Too many backs. Too many attack angles. Too much experience not to. The question to me is whether the Chargers will continue their recent ascent on defense and hold the Comets in check. Tim Lafferty told me there are aspects of Clifton Central's that smack of the old Cullen Welter style attack at Aledo. That's a scheme that Defensive Coordinator Lyle Klein has seen more times than he probably cares to count, so the Chargers clearly won't be coming into this blind. The Comets have 1500 yard back in Logan Gigl who will likely command the lion's share of IW's defensive attention. If that were the extent of the offensive issues you deal with in defending Clifton Central, that would be tough enough. The bigger issue here is that you have a Quarterback who is remarkably efficient in J.R. Caspery who completes better than 55% of his passes and spreads the ball around very well (three receivers with 4 or more receiving touchdowns on the season) To my mind, this game boils down to a referendum on the IW Secondary, to some degree. They simply can't afford to give up big plays or bite on play action. On paper, Clifton Central is probably your favorite here but I learned long ago never to pick against IW at Fuzz Berges Field. I think the Chargers win in the day's best game and I think its an absolute thriller/instant classic. Which is probably why I've assigned it to yours truly for Saturday...
4A: MACOMB (9-1) AT PEORIA NOTRE DAME (7-3)
The Bombers "Mid-State Six Farewell Tour" continues with a trip to Peoria Stadium on Saturday and a showdown with a deceptively good Irish squad. For those of you playing the "Transitive Property of Football Equality" game...yes, QND beat PND earlier this season and the Bombers have now beaten the Raiders twice, which allows you to assume Macomb should beat PND. I am a bit more leery here. First of all, it took the game of a lifetime from a healthy Nick Weiman to help QND put PND away in the final seconds. And to be honest, Macomb didn't see that Nick Weiman in either meeting. And when the Irish have been good, they have been outstanding this year. They were the only team this season to put a legitimate scare into undefeated U-High and Dusty Burk said to the Journal Star in the aftermath of that game PND was "as good of a football team as we've played all year. They execute so well. They have an all-around solid football team." Bottom line, Macomb has a very tricky draw here. I do think Kelly Sears has an advantage in Top Level talent, with four of the six best players on the field at any one time. And I would be hard pressed to bet against the Bomber Defense at this point, regardless of opponent. My concern is this: can Macomb muster enough offense to get this job done. The Irish figure to pack the box against the run and they have the manpower to slug it out with Macomb in the trenches. Can Macomb make critical plays in key spots against a higher level defense designed to take away Jarrod Rockhold and Eli Cousins? Is this the week the Bomber Play Action passing game comes to life? How much does Garrett Kline's injury revamp the structure of a talented, but thin (Nick Severs moved to center against QND) Bomber Offensive Line? There are some very serious Offensive Questions to answer here. And Macomb is a team that can ill afford, in any game, to get behind early. I think this is a low scoring affair and I think it has to be for Macomb to win. Again, I put full faith in the Bomber Defense. Now its time to see what Offensive Coordinator Max Kreps can coax out of his squad in a pinch...and what tricks he has up his sleeve.
5A: SACRED HEART-GRIFFIN (9-1) AT JACKSONVILLE (6-4)
For what it is worth, the Crimsons have won two straight playoff games at SHG's expense and I am certain that is a situation Ken Leonard and his Cyclones have talked about remedying this weekend...ad nausem. That may be a source of motivation to the Cyclones but I am not sure it's germane to the conversation. The salient point here is that the Crimsons aren't intimidated by SHG's well earned reputation and really have no reason to be. They've started this dragon down too many times and have seen for themselves the best and worst of what can happen. And in their last two meetings with Griffin, the Crimsons have done something against SHG they have rarely done before: made stops. The Crimsons surrendered fewer points to SHG during the regular season than any other Illinois team on the schedule. Jacksonville is deep enough and talented enough at every level of the defense to account now for the things that SHG has historically done of the years to open the field up on JHS. And had Mark Grounds the luxury of playing just one quarterback or the other against SHG, instead of having to change boats in midstream, I tend to think JHS had more than enough firepower to score 21 points. And that was before Andy Mills really found his comfort level at running back. I think JAX is entirely capable of winning this game. But this is a different animal than the Centralia game was. SHG knows all to well what to expect. The Cyclones will know to pressure Bryce Schnitker with blitzes and see just how mobile the kid actually is on that taped together ankle. Centralia let him throw with virtual impunity and that was a horrible mistake. The good news for Mark Grounds in this case is that he has two really capable quarterbacks and like last week, I expect him to mix and match with Schnitker and Zac Lonergan to exploit whatever angles he can play to his own advantage. The fact that this game is at K-R Field is also a huge advantage for the Crimsons. As I have said from the get-go, JHS has the weapons to play with and beat anyone. And the Crimsons are riding a big crest of momentum coming off last week's emphatic takedown of a number one seeded team. I think this all comes down to execution. Jacksonville is talented enough that it doesn't need to be perfect to beat SHG. But the Crimsons do have to make fewer mistakes and like last week, I think the biggest key is winning the giveaway/takeaway battle. That was such a pivotal part of unraveling the Orphans last week and if JHS can catch lighting in a bottle again defensively and get SHG in adverse situations, the Cyclones haven't shown the ability in two years to pick up long yardage or make critical 3rd down conversions against this D. The more possessions Jacksonville gets, the better the odds of pulling this thing off. It is as simple as that.
FEARLESS IHSA PREDICTIONS
Wednesday: 7 for 7 (100%)
Season to Date: 149 for 178 (83.7%)
CENTRAL A&M 24
CERRO GORDO 20
CLIFTON CENTRAL 14
ILLINI WEST 16
(In Progress...will update throughout the weekend. Please check back)