Football: Central vs Watseka (copy)

Central quarterback Jay Lemenager throws to wide receiver Grant Grider during the Comets’ 33-7 victory against Watseka earlier this month. Lemenager's arm and legs have played pivotal roles in helping Central win its first seven games of 2019.

For the second time this season, the Top-2 teams in the power rankings are going to battle for supremacy. Also for the second time, that game will be played at Coal City.

There have been plenty of movers and shakers as teams have hit their respective peaks and valleys this season, but the Coalers have yet to budge from their top spot. Since Week 2’s victory against Bishop McNamara, who was tied atop the rankings with Coal City at the time, the Coalers have been nothing short of dominant.

They’ve pitched three shutouts in five Illinois Central Eight Conference games and allowed just a touchdown apiece in the other two. Daniel Jezik leads the area in rushing behind an offensive line that has made easy work of the inferior defensive fronts that have stood before them.

That’s led the Coalers to a 7-0 record, the same mark Wilmington will carry into town when the two ICE rivals do battle Friday night in what promises to be a classic.

Let’s get to this week’s rankings.

1. Coal City (7-0)

In recent years, Lisle has been a worthy opponent for many teams in the conference formerly known as the Interstate Eight, especially at home. But the Coalers must not have gotten that memo, as Jezik ran wild and led his team to a four-touchdown blowout. With how dominant he’s been this year, it’s sometimes easy to forget Payton Hutchings is a three-year starter at quarterback. These kids are talented, balanced and ready for the postseason to come, as evidenced by the home they’ve made in the Top 3 of the IHSA Class 4A AP poll.

2. Wilmington (7-0)

Before the Coalers can prepare for the playoffs (and Week 9 opponent Reed-Custer), they’ll have to get past a Wilmington team that has scored 40-plus points five times and won every game by at least three touchdowns. While Coal City entered the season with plenty of hype, the Wildcats flew relatively under the radar during the summer, at least by the standard past Wilmington squads have set. But by now, it’s evident the No.-1 team in the Class 3A poll is poised for a postseason push.

3. Central (7-0)

The Comets had their stiffest test of the weekend against Class 4A Paxton-Buckley-Loda, a test they passed, thanks to their defense and the legs of quarterback Jay Lemenager. The run game has been leaned on a bit more as of late, as has the defense, but both facets of the game have been as stellar as need be to be considered a great team. Judging by their current spot at No. 2 in the Class 2A poll, a spot that might even be a little low, a great team is exactly what Central is looking like.

4. Kankakee (6-1)

The Kays were optimistic to start the 2019 season, but not many of even the biggest Kankakee supporters could have seen such a dominant season coming. It was yet another running clock victory for the Kays last weekend when they pounded Bloom 42-0, as they now have outscored their opponents 104-0 the past two weeks. A playoff spot has been 100 percent locked up, but with two weeks left, it remains to be seen if Class 5A’s No.-9 team will stay in Class 5A or move up a class, as the current official IHSA playoff outlook has them as the largest team in Class 5A.

5. Bishop McNamara (4-3)

What a difference a calendar flip can make. The Irish sputtered to a 1-3 record in September, but a pair of Metro Suburban Conference victories this month have the Irish back on the upswing as the final two weeks approach. Injuries and depth still are issues that could plague McNamara come November, but with senior leadership in the right positions and one of the Midwest’s most well known legends, the Irish never can be counted out when playoff football comes.

6. Bradley-Bourbonnais (3-4)

After the first two-thirds of the season brought four one-possession games, the Boilers got to take a breath Friday when they dismantled Stagg 37-0 on the road. Now that a teacher’s strike in Chicago’s public school system is a reality, the Boilers might need to just split their last two games to reach the postseason, although coach Mike Kohl and company definitely have a real chance at upending their final two SouthWest Suburban Conference opponents.

7. Milford-Cissna Park (7-0)

It’s absolutely absurd I’m about to say this, but the Bearcats’ 40-point output against Pawnee-Lincolnwood on Saturday was their lowest of the season. Just let that sink in. Penn Stoller has been an absolute terror as a passer, a runner and a linebacker, and the supporting cast is proving to be on par with what last year’s state champions had.

8. Manteno (3-4)

While it wasn’t the biggest surprise in the world the Panthers edged Peotone last week, it was the biggest surprise in the world the defense was as lights out as it was. The Panthers had come into the game allowing 30 or more points in five of their first six contests before holding the Blue Devils to seven points. Paired with the six points they allowed to Reed-Custer a few weeks before, this defense might be turning a corner and has started to catch up to the prolific offense.

9. Peotone (5-2)

The Blue Devils’ defense did what it needed to do last week by holding Manteno to just 14 points, half of what the Panthers were averaging, but Peotone’s own offense never got off the ground. Part of that was because of gameflow — the Blue Devils always like to grind it out on the ground, and the Panthers have shown an eagerness to run as of late, but if the Blue Devils want to be the threat in Class 3A they know they can be, the offense will have to find a tad more consistency during the final two weeks.

10. Watseka (5-2)

After averaging a smidge more than five touchdowns per game during the first five weeks, the Warriors have hit a serious offensive rut in their past two games. A bit of regression to the mean was to be expected against stout defensive units at Central and Seneca but not this much. The Warriors have found the endzone just once the past two weeks, and things won’t get much easier in Friday’s clash with Paxton-Buckley-Loda.

11. Dwight (2-5)

The Trojans have been about as opposite as possible from the Warriors. After managing just 78 points across the first five weeks, they’ve more than doubled their season output in the past two, putting up 52 and 45 points respectively. I can’t overstate how fun it is to watch Carson Crouch play and his supporting cast continues to make strides as the season goes on. With the playoffs likely out of reach (but not impossible with the CPS strike), the Trojans have seemed to find some comfort in playing for pride.

12. Herscher (2-5)

Herscher needed a win for moral support after a rough five weeks, and that’s exactly what the Tigers got in their defensive struggle with Streator last week. With such a young core, that 16-9 win hopefully will set off a spark that will continue to grow down the stretch and into the offseason, with coach Dan Wetzel looking to have his Tigers back in the postseason picture in 2020.

13. Momence (1-6)

It’s pretty rare for a team to move up in any rankings list after a loss, but Momence was as close as can be to upending Georgetown-Ridge Farm, leading the game until a late 60-yard Buffaloes touchdown. The progress has come almost every week, particularly on the offensive end. That progress won’t translate into the win column this year, but no matter what the final record ends up being, coach Wayne Walker and his staff have to like the improvements they’ve seen.

14. Reed-Custer (1-6)

As evidenced by their record, the 2019 season hasn’t been what the Comets hoped for, but 2020 and beyond look promising. I know I’ve mentioned the talent the Comets have with their underclassmen before, but it bears mentioning again, as their lower level has racked up a 6-0 record that has included blowout wins against the likes of Peotone, Wilmington and the B-team at Bradley-Bourbonnais.

15. Iroquois West (1-6)

The Raiders hoped to parlay their Week-2 win into some success in 2019, but as it stands, the 32-0 win against Hoopeston is the only time Iroquois West has put one in the win column. Tibaldo Alvarez has played as well at quarterback as a 1-6 team could hope for. Alvarez is an even better person than he is a quarterback, and one can’t help but feel for him he’ll be graduated by the time coach Cam Stone’s vision becomes reality.

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