Gametime: 7 p.m.
Players to watch: Bishop McNamara — WR/DB Manny Harris, QB Tyler Hiller; Coal City — TE/LB Austin Pullara, DE Brady Crawford
Irish on offense: The Irish piled up 35 points in the first half of their Week-1 win against Bloom and seemed to pick up right where they left off last season, even without instant legend Tyshon King in the backfield. Tyler Hiller really can fling it from the quarterback position, and he has a wealth of weapons, highlighted by receiver Manny Harris and running backs Owen Jackson and Caleb Smith. Left tackle Isaac Ruder will be put to the test against the Coalers’ imposing defensive line.
Irish on defense: A new defensive scheme this year has allowed the Irish to play a more free and open style, which fits jack-of-all-trades Damien Thornton perfectly in the defensive backfield. Manny Harris plays a terrific cornerback, and Caleb Smith will look to camp out in the Coalers’ backfield from his defensive end position. The Irish will need to make sure their front four can cause enough disturbance to prevent the Coalers from reaching the second level with run blocks and also need to keep an eye on Pullara at all times.
Coalers on offense: Daniel Jezik torched Morris for 238 yards and a trio of touchdowns behind a strong, experienced offensive line, and the Coalers will look to establish the run against the Irish. It won’t be as easy against a more competitive front, but the Coalers still have the pieces to get it done. They will hope that ground game can set up Payton Hutchings and the Coalers’ passing game, especially in playaction situations, where Hutchings loves his tight end target in Pullara.
Coalers on defense: The Coalers pitched four shutouts in their last five regular season games in 2018 and return plenty of pieces from that unit, especially in the front seven. Pullara and Jack Bunton lead a linebacking unit that is aggressive, fast and in-your-face at all times. Brady Crawford is a lean and lengthy defensive end that will have a tremendous matchup with McNamara’s Ruder. The question is if the Coalers have anyone in the secondary that can consistently cover Harris. If they can keep everything in front of them and prevent big plays over the top, the Coalers could grind out a well-deserved win.
Pick: It’s been quite a while since an all-local football matchup has caused this much hype and excitement. No matter the outcome, both of these teams will be tough outs in the Class 4A playoffs, potentially facing each other in the quarterfinals or semifinals. The Coalers have home-field advantage, and the Irish have a slight edge in high-intensity games. Bishop McNamara 31, Coal City 30