Game of the week: Rumble on Route 50

Peotone’s Ben Balmer breaks through Reed-Custer’s defense on his way to a touchdown earlier this season. Balmer will lead the Blue Devils into Manteno on Friday.

Peotone at Manteno

Gametime: 7 p.m.

Players to watch: Peotone — RB/LB Ben Balmer, TE/LB Logan Heflin; Manteno — QB Caleb Borkenhagen, WR/DB Luke Trepanier

Blue Devils on offense: Balmer, Balmer, Balmer. The Blue Devils will look to get their lead running back involved early and often, both because it’s what they do but also to keep the Panthers’ offense off the field. Max Gesswein and Henry Chadraba connected for a pair of scores last week and could look to keep Manteno’s defense honest, and a stable of backs behind Balmer will rotate in in attempts to grind that defense down.

Blue Devils on defense: The Blue Devils have 14 sacks this season, four apiece from Heflin and Tyler Hendricker. Heflin will factor in on a pass rush that will look to disrupt Borkenhagen and the Manteno passing game, and he also will be in on run defense as well. Peotone prides itself on defense, and that unit will be tested on the road against the area’s leading passer. But they’ve been stellar in conference play, averaging a hair more than 10 points per game the past month.

Panthers on offense: Borkenhagen leads the area in passing by about 100 yards and has a deeply talented group of receivers. Davey Wurster and the running game have been more and more prominent as the season goes on, and the Panthers could choose to continue that and make Friday a truly physical battle. Whatever route they choose, the Panthers usually have been successful on this side of the ball, save for last week’s seven-point outing against Coal City.

Panthers on defense: There’s no question this is the side of the ball the Panthers would like to see improvement on. Josh Gesky is the focal point of the line, just as he is offensively, and his brother, Jeremy, will join him up front as they attempt to eat up holes and keep the Blue Devils’ ground attack at bay. In this week’s matchup, the Panthers will have to keep everything in front of them as much as possible and look to force an opportunistic turnover or two.

Pick: In a rivalry such as this, the Blue Devils’ 5-1 record and the Panthers’ 2-4 record both can be thrown out the window. It’s homecoming in Manteno, where the Panthers are fighting for their playoff life against the biggest rival on their schedules. Meanwhile, the Blue Devils will look to continue taking care of business and earn the rivalry win for the third year in a row. With all that’s on the line, if the Panthers keep it close, they could try something wild late, such as a 2-point conversion attempt, to keep the Rumble trophy. Peotone 28, Manteno 27

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