Wilmington at Coal City
Gametime: 7 p.m.
Players to watch: Wilmington — RB/LB Jake Rodawold, QB/CB Keaton Hopwood; Coal City — RB/DB Daniel Jezik, DE/WR Brady Crawford
Wildcats on offense: Friday's tilt features a battle of the Top-2 rushers in the area, with Rodawold representing one half of that equation. He's second to only Jezik in rushing yards (1,160) and leads the area with 21 touchdowns, but the Wildcats have plenty more as well. Trey Shaw has been electric since his return from injury, Cody Franzen can tote the rock, and Hopwood has a rocket arm. That arm could come into play with some playaction.
Wildcats on defense: If there's been any possible knock on the Wildcats, it's been lapses in defensive focus, although even that has been pretty rare. Rodawold has transitioned nicely from the secondary to the linebacking unit and will be looking to keep Jezik from breaking free too often. Should the Coalers have to turn more to the passing game, which can be effective with quarterback Payton Hutchings, Hopwood and Jack Narine are ballhawks at the cornerback spots, with Shaw holding it down at safety.
Coalers on offense: Jezik's 1,409 yards are by far tops in the area, and it's no secret the Coalers will feed him early and often. Asa Cooper is a speedster in the slot that will see his share of jet sweeps and the like, but the Coalers are really firing on all cylinders when Hutchings gets in a rhythm, particularly with Pullara. Although these are the Top-2 rushing attacks in the area, each team also boasts quarterbacks who will pitch in college (Hutchings at Illinois; Hopwood at Coastal Carolina).
Coalers on defense: The Coalers have had the best front seven in the area for two years, with a multitude of seasoned vets loading the box against the Wildcats' double wing offense. If Crawford and his fellow linemen can eat blocks and fill gaps, that will allow Pullara, Jack Bunton and company to roam freely and keep the 'Cats at bay. The secondary entered the season young but quickly got up to speed with tests against Morris and Bishop McNamara, and that unit keeps surging as the season goes on.
Pick: The Coalers ran away with a 27-0 win, and although last year is last year, you can be sure the Wildcats have revenge on their minds. No one in the conference has shown they are on the same level as either of these two powerhouses. The Wildcats have the highest scoring average of local 11-Man teams (43 points per game), and the Coalers have the second-best scoring defense (nine points per game). Some people might say something has to give, but I think we'll see that split down the middle. Both teams are primed for deep postseason runs, but give me the home team here. Coal City 28, Wilmington 21