GAME OF THE WEEK: Wilmington at Coal City

Wilmington’s Matt Sanchez, right, leaps toward teammate Jacob Friddle as the Wildcats secured a 24-21 comeback victory against Coal City last spring. The two teams meet again Friday, this time in Coal City.

(3A-1) Wilmington (2-0) at (4A-8) Coal City (2-0)

Game time: 7 p.m.


Players to watch: RB/DB Jacob Friddle, RB/LB Karsen Hansen

Wildcats on offense: The Wildcats aren't going to hide who they are, which is a smashmouth offense with a deep stable of running backs who don't mind running through or over defenders, doing it all behind the comfort of offensive linemen big enough to throw weight around but quick enough to make the requisite pull blocks. Friddle has been the one constant through two games, with Hansen seeing his workload increased tenfold between the first two weeks. The Wildcats don't mind driving down the field 5 yards and 40 seconds at a time.

Wildcats on defense: The Wilmington defense pitched an impressive road shutout at Marengo before Johnsburg scored the first two touchdowns on the Wildcats last week. Hansen and fellow linebacker Allan Richards will have busy days trying to tame the Coalers backfield, but don't overlook the importance of players such as Friddle in the secondary. Coal City likes to extend its running game with quick-hit passes the Wilmington defense will have to be ready for.

Coal City

Players to watch: RB/DL Nick Seplak, TE/DL Aydan Murphey

Coalers on offense: Ashton Harvey is the unquestioned leader of the Coalers' backfield, and he likely will see the most carries Friday on an offense that could be described similarly to Wilmington's in terms of tons of tough running backs and stellar line play. But the Coalers will throw some different looks in, as Seplak will see his fair share of work out of the backfield and in motion. Braden Reilly made the throws he had to when the Coalers topped McNamara last week, and spreading the Wilmington defense out with the passing game could be in the cards again.

Coalers on defense: The Coalers and defense go together like salt and pepper, and with former defensive coordinator Francis Loughran moving into the head coaching role this year, that's only increased. Murphey might not rack up the counting stats, such as tackles, but he is an absolute load to account for on the end, and he often will eat up blocks that free tacklers to come in behind him. In terms of sound, fundamental defense, not many teams will practice that like the Coalers.

Pick: Like most years, these two teams are about as evenly matched as possible in all three phases. And like last spring, in an instant classic won by the Wildcats, the likely deciding factor will be who has home field. Coal City 21, Wilmington 20

Mason Schweizer is an award-winning reporter who has been with the Daily Journal since 2017 and sports editor since 2019. Save for time at the University of Illinois and Wayne State College, Mason is a lifelong area resident.