FAIRBURY — Well, it could be said that the easy part of the schedule is over and now Prairie Central heads into the rough part. There might be truth to that, but the reality is every week is a challenge, particularly in the Illini Prairie Conference.
However, where the second half season will differ from the first half is in the schedule. The Hawks will be on the road for three consecutive weeks against a trio of stout opponents before finishing the regular season at home against Central Catholic.
This week's game will be at Paxton-Buckley-Loda in a game between unbeaten and state-ranked teams looking to gain the edge in the race for the IPC title. Prairie Central is ranked seventh in the latest AP Class 3A poll and PBL is ranked 10th. Both sport 5-0 records.
And, the winner will be a qualifier for the playoffs.
“We definitely have to take it one week at a time,” PC head coach Andrew Quain said. “The Panthers are up next an that's our focus.”
PBL has been playing well, but the Panthers really haven't faced a team at the level that Prairie Central is playing at. Their closes game was a 28-25 win at home over Central Catholic in Week 3. PBL edged Illinois Valley Central 28-20 at home in Week 1.
The stars for PBL have been Connor Vaughn at quarterback, running back Robert Boyd-Meents and tight end-linebacker Kayden Snelling. Snelling is the one player that concerns Quain.
He said that among the keys for the Prairie Central defense will be stopping the run (Boyd-Meents) and knowing where Snelling at all times. Quain pointed out that Snelling will line up anywhere.
It will be the defense that will need to come up big for the Hawks, especially with the versatility the Panthers have shown in the different ways they will run the ball.
“Defensively, they have a very big offensive line,” Quain said. “They want to run the ball. We haven't seen a team try to run a whole lot on us. We hope the defense is up to the task of trying to stop the run.
“They have some good athletes and can score quickly. They pose another team a lot of problems with the different weapons that they have.”
Prairie Central has been able to neutralize running attacks and making teams one-dimensional. This was the case with St. Joseph-Ogden and Tolono. Part of that, though, was because the offense churned out a lot of points.
A concern for Quain is if his line can pick up blitzes. He said that PBL will look to blitz a lot, especially with Snelling from the middle linebacker spot.
“He is a very good player, very aggressive,” Quain said. “They like to blitz, cause pressure and try to create chaos. It's going to be important for us to communicate on the offensive line and pick those blitzes up. If they make a mistake on a blitz, we have to try to take advantage of it.”
When it comes to running the ball, Prairie Central has been superior. Four ballcarriers have gained more than 250 yards through five games and the team has rushed for 1,790 yards. FullbackDrew Fehr is the leader with 447 yards and 8 touchdowns. Camden Palmore has rushed for 320 yards and 4 TDs while Tyler Curl has 284 yards and a pair of touchdowns and quarterback Drew Haberkorn has rushed for 252 yards and 6 TDs.
Although Haberkorn is only 13 of 26 passing for 252 yards, he has 4 touchdowns through the air.
A Prairie Central victory puts the Hawks into the playoffs and moves them one step closer to a conference crown.
“It's been a goal for our senior class to win a conference title this year,” Quain said. “If you slip up, you might not get that chance again. It's important for us to win the game in that aspect.”
EPG (4-1) vs. No. 8 Eureka (5-0)
EL PASO — Head coach Tanner Benedict has another big challenge in front of him this week as El Paso-Gridley hosts unbeaten and eighth-ranked Eureka.
The Titans are coming off a 33-7 loss to No. 2 Ridgeview-Lexington last week in their first try at claiming a fifth win to qualify for playoff consideration. This week will be tough, as well, with the unbeaten and quite balanced Hornets.
Quarterback Jacob Morin has thrown for 1,035 yards and 16 touchdowns. There are five receivers with more than 100 yards in receptions.
The running game had amassed 1,067 yards with Rylan Bachman leading the way with 315 yards.
It's a pick-your-poison kind of opponent and the Titans will be looking to keep the Hornets in check while also trying to find the end zone. EPG has seen its scoring tally drop each week since a 51-26 win over Macon (Meridian) in Week 1.
Still, a loss won't be devastating with three weeks remaining. The Titans will have a chance to still qualify for the postseason before meeting Tri-Valley in Week 9.
Dwight-GSW (1-4) vs. Momence (1-3)
DWIGHT —Dwight-GSW finds itself in a tie for first place in the Vermilion Valley North standing after dispatching of Momence last week. The Trojans have a tougher foe this week in perennial power Clifton (Central). The Comets are also 1-0 in league play after rolling over Watseka last week.
It's also Homecoming Week for Dwight-GSW.
This article originally appeared on Pontiac Daily Leader: Prairie Central Hawks PBL Panthers El Paso-Gridley Fehr Haberkorn