Football Tab 10/29/21 Jacksonville Journal-Courier

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All In Area teams — including Jacksonville — ready for postseason

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2 • Friday, October 29, 2021 • Jacksonville Journal-Courier

West Central finally breaks through By Travis Zuellig

For the Journal-Courier

Coming into this season, the West Central football team had gone five seasons without making the playoffs. During the 2019 season, the Cougars finished with a 2-7 record in their first year under new head coach Matt Coultas, and four of those losses were decided by less than a touchdown. Coultas said he felt that team was close to being a playoff team. West Central used the spring season in 2021 to get better. This fall, the Cougars broke through with a 6-3 record and a road playoff game. The Cougars will travel to Arcola (7-2) to play the Purple Riders on Saturday in the first round of the IHSA Class 1A playoffs. Kickoff is at 2 pm. “The kids from last year played a lot of football and understood the game,” Coultas said. “We were really fine-tuning things early last year, which was really nice. This year, we really had to step up and get these kids up to the level of thinking football. “We had some juniors from last year come in and fill those roles very well. And just finding those young kids that are prepped and ready and want to put the work in to be successful has been a big surprise to us.” One of those surprises was senior running back Ryan Moore, who hadn’t played since his freshman year. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound senior ran for

1,229 yards and 18 touchdowns to lead the West Central ground attack this season. Helping spearhead that rush offense is senior Lathan Barnett, who has been with the program along with his brother, tight end Landon Barnett, since middle school. Barnett rushed 929 yards and 11 touchdowns. With junior Tyson Brown at quarterback, the Cougars scored 314 points, averaging just under 35 points per contest. Coultas said he is pleased with the progress this season as West Central had between 28 and 30 players all season long. “We really like the kids we have,” the coach said. “Number-wise, I think we are a lot like a lot of other 1A schools around the area. We kept steady with our numbers. We are just trying to get kids in the right position to be successful. We have some dynamic kids, and kids with a lot of experience, and we have some newcomers that have been a big part of the program.” West Central started the season by clicking right out of the gate. The Cougars opened with four straight wins over Triopia, Beardstown, Calhoun and Pleasant Hill by a combined score of 139-14. It was the first time West Central had won more than three games in a row since the 2011 season. The Cougars fell to Greenfield-NW, Carrollton and Mendon Unity — all playoff teams — in three of the last five games, with two games decided

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West Central’s Lathan Barnett pushes forward during a football game against Routt in Winchester earlier this season.

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West Central’s Ryan Moore gains ground during a game against Routt earlier this season.

by less than one touchdown. West Central’s opponent in this firstround matchup will be Arcola out of the Lincoln Prairie Conference. The Purple Riders won the conference this season with a 7-0 record. Arcola opened the year with non-conference losses to Tuscola and Reed-Custer

before rattling off seven straight to close out the season. “We have some game film on them,” Coultas said. “They run the ball pretty well. They run a shotgun and spread the players out a little bit. I think they are a predominantly run football team. Of course, all of that could change the

way they have things set up. Defensively, they seem pretty solid. It has the makings to be a pretty good ballgame.” In the Cougars’ first playoff game since 2015, Coultas thinks his team has a good chance to advance if they play their game.

“I think we need to perform on all aspects of the game,” Coultas said. “I think if our kids come ready to play and we live within our rules and do things right, we will give ourselves a good chance to be successful to come out of there and potentially go to the second round.”

4 • Friday, October 29, 2021 • Jacksonville Journal-Courier

Tigers back in the playoffs By Travis Zuellig

For the Journal-Courier

For the seventh time in the past nine seasons (minus the 2021 spring season), head coach Joe Pembrook has led the Greenfield-Northwestern football team to the IHSA Class 1A playoffs. The Tigers are in familiar territory after compiling another winning season with a 7-2 record. They finished second in the WIVC South. Greenfield-NW will play host for this first-round playoff game against Salt Fork (6-3). Kickoff Saturday is at 1 p.m. “We are absolutely thrilled to be back in the playoffs,” Pembrook said. “It is a great time of the year, and the kids get very excited and the whole community rallies around the idea of going into the playoffs. It is something that we missed last year in the pandemic. It is always a long-term goal of our program to qualify for the playoffs.” The Tigers are really hitting their stride over the last few weeks. After a 34-16 defeat to Carrollton in Week 6, Greenfield-NW rattled off three wins in a row over Pleasant Hill, Brown County and Routt to close out the season, outscoring the three teams 130-7. The Tigers this season also own wins over West Central and Beardstown, a pair of playoff teams. “Just proud of the way we have responded to adversity throughout the course of the year,” Pembrook. “I think we are starting to play our best football at the right time as we finished our regular season campaign. We are very fortunate that we have won enough games to qualify for the playoffs and now looking forward to the postseason.” The Tigers are led by two seniors on offense, Brady Pembrook and Sam Walker. Pembrook Greenfield-Northwestern’s Sam Walker heads upfield during a football game against Routt in Jacksonville earlier this season. is in his first year at quarterback

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Jacksonville Journal-Courier • Friday, October 29, 2021 • 5 and completed 71-of-118 passes for 945 yards and 10 touchdowns. Coach Pembrook said his senior quarterback “understands our offense very well and executes at a high level.” Walker has picked up a bulk of the carries this season, rushing 146 times for 1,192 yards and 19 touchdowns. Overall, the Tigers have scored 342 points this season, averaging 38 points per game. Pembrook says Greenfield-NW has plenty of weapons besides the two seniors. “I think we have been very efficient on the offensive side of the ball,” Pembrook said. “We are really trying to spread it around and not be one-dimensional. We are trying to attack teams from a lot of different angles. I am very happy with the way both sides of our line have been able to execute and play physical up front.” The Tigers will have a tough opponent this Saturday. Salt Fork plays in the Vermilion Valley South Conference and has not lost to a Class 1A school all season. The three losses came against Bismark-Henning-Rossville-Alvin, Westville and Hoopeston, which are all playoff teams. The Storm closed out the season with an 8-2 win over Oakwood. Salt Fork is very familiar with the playoffs, qualifying in each of the past five seasons, minus the 2021 spring season. “They are a perennial playoff team,” Pembrook said. “They have a dynamic rushing attack and they have really good size up front. They are going to be multifaceted in their offensive attack. We are going to have our hands full on Saturday with Salt Fork.” RIGHT: A Greenfield-Northwestern ball carrier puts his head down as he plows through the middle against Routt.

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6 • Friday, October 29, 2021 • Jacksonville Journal-Courier

Here come the Crimsons Jacksonville’s return to the playoffs was years in the making By Dennis Mathes

Dennis Mathes | Journal-Courier

Jacksonville’s Elijah Owens throws a pass during a game against Decatur MacArthur in Jacksonville last Friday night.

year at Beardstown. West Central’s Matt Coultas and Greenfield-Northwestern’s Joe Pembrook both lost some talented seniors. Nick Flowers helped Carrollton become

one of the area’s most dominant teams. But no coach in the area had to deal with the loss of 17 seniors the way Grounds did. The Crimsons were a young team that

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The path to success is never a straight line. It takes trial and error. Steps forward and steps back. Small victories and major defeats. Sometimes, success never comes. For the Jacksonville football team, the path back to the IHSA playoffs was five years in the making. ”It feels great,” Jacksonville coach Mark Grounds said. “You know, there’s only a certain amount of teams that are practicing. Everybody else was turning in their equipment. It’s a great feeling for us. It’s a situation that, these kids, and the classes ahead of them, have put in so much work to try to build us back to a playoff team, and to finally get there, it’s a credit to all those four classes that didn’t make the playoffs because they worked hard, and they instilled in each class what it needs to be able to take another step. And I’m proud that these kids, after a crazy spring, and an even crazier fall, were able to get it done and put themselves in the playoffs and get to experience this for our town and for our school and for our team.” If we handed out a Coach of the Year award, it would have to go to Grounds. Elliott Craig did a fantastic job in his first

grew up over the course of the season. “I think every week we took a step,” Grounds said. “Maybe to the casual observer it wasn’t always the step in the right direction, but we saw improvement every week with the things that we needed to improve. The problem is, the teams that we face in our league, there’s not a chance to take a breath. You’ve got to bring your ‘A’ game every single week. So not only were we learning, we were also having to add stuff each week to be different and to be relevant with the game plans. They progressed. And I felt like this team had some great things in them to accomplish, and to win that game on Senior Night to put us into the playoffs was a great accomplishment. I think there’s more still left in them, and hopefully Saturday we go over and we can be spoilers and be giant-killers and beat a 9-0 team on their home turf.” The talent was there. Grounds was convined of that. But the Crimsons had to become a unit, and that took leaders. “I think we had some really dynamic leaders in our class that graduated in the spring,” Grounds said. “So there was a leadership vaccuum. We had a lot of kids who have been leaders by example their entire career. And they had to learn that there are times that you’ve got to be vocal and call people out, and you’ve got to pull people together. And it’s not an easy thing for a teenager to have to be a peer leader. And they got better at it and better at it, and we got closer and closer, and now they don’t want to leave the locker room. That’s why they want to keep winning. They want to be here with each other, and they want this team to last as long as we can. Even though a lot of the guys will be back next

Jacksonville Journal-Courier • Friday, October 29, 2021 • 7 year, this team is over when the season’s over. This team will never be intact again. And that is a lesson that they started to learn as the season went on, and they started to savor every moment. And Senior Week was a special week for us, OK? Playoff Week is a special week, too. So they’re getting to continue the growth process, and hopefully, it goes on for a few more weeks.” Jacksonville’s offensive and defensive lines showed the biggest improvement this year, Grounds said, along with a secondary that had only one returning player. The Crimsons gave up fewer big plays, and made more interceptions, as the season progressed. The season all came down to the MacArthur game, which all came down to the last eight minutes. General Douglas MacArthur, for whom the school is named, once famously said, “I shall return.” He did. And so did the Crimsons. “They were a great team, and we had pieces of the puzzle, but the puzzle wasn’t completely put together,” Grounds said. “And I think it finally came together that second half against MacArthur where all the light switches were turned on, and it was a great thing to witness.” The Crimsons were loose and focused in their first playoff practice on Tuesday. “They know that they have the opportunity to do something special,” Grounds said. “Playoffs in football are not guaranteed. Every other sport in the IHSA makes postseason play. You’re not guaranteed to do that in football. So to make it, and to know that they’re a class that made it there, they know that that’s special. And they treated tonight special as the first practice out here after films on Monday, and worked exceptionally hard.” Jacksonville’s first-round opponent, Mahomet-Seymour is 9-0. “They’re a community that values athletics,” Grounds said. “There’ll be huge fan support there. Their quarterback throws the ball all over the place. They’re about

Dennis Mathes | Journal-Courier

Jacksonville’s Phillip Johnson (1) and Trey Elliott (22) converge on Decatur MacArthur’s quarterback during a football game last Friday night in Jacksonville.

a confuse and disrupt defense with their scheme. And they’re confident. And we’ve got to go to their place, and it’s at 7 o’clock on a Saturday night. So it’s going to be a challenge for us. But I think it’s a challenge that we’re up to. And, you know, we told the team, it doesn’t matter if you get in through the front door, the back door or the kitchen window — you’re in the playoffs. And even though they may have a 5-4 record during the regular season, right now everybody’s 0-0. And our goal is to have


the ‘1’ after this game to the left of the dash instead of to the right.” On paper, Mahomet-Seymour’s resume doesn’t seem as impressive as its record. The Bulldogs played two teams that finished with winning records this year. However, with an enrollment of 943, Mahomet-Seymour beat Peoria Richwoods (1,301 enrollment) and Bloomington (1,461) this season. What does it take to upset a higher-seeded team in the playoffs?

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“Well, I think you’ve got to be physical,” Grounds said. “You can’t turn the ball over on offense, and you’ve got to force takeaways on defense, and have a solid kicking game. And I think that we have the ability to do all of those. I think that’s the recipe to be able to beat a team that you may be an underdog to. And then you’ve got to have playmakers. And I think we’ve got playmakers on both sides of the ball that, when it’s necessary, they find a way to get things done.”



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8 • Friday, October 29, 2021 • Jacksonville Journal-Courier

Carrollton set for a long run By Dennis Mathes

What will Grant Pohlman do for an encore? The senior quarterback, who led the Carrollton football team to an 8-1 record this season, helped the Hawks secure a No. 2 seed in the playoffs with a win at Brown County last Friday night. In a season where he seemed to top himself every week, Pohlman tied a single-game rushing record against Brown County, scoring six touchdowns. Coach Nick Flowers expected the kind of season Pohlman is having. Like a meteor blazing across the sky, Pohlman’s first and only year at quarterback has been a memorable one. “We knew he had that ability, and we knew if we gave him some help in some other positions that he’d be a heckuva football player,” Flowers said. “But it has taken some growing pains for Grant, with missing his junior season — where other players got that spring season, he didn’t. So he’s had some growing pains along the way. But he’s such an athlete, he’s been able to overcome those growing pains, and he’s turned out to be a heckuva football player.” Flowers said every week Pohlman has gotten better at reading his pass progressions. “It’s one thing to be able to pass the ball in seven-on-sevens or to be able to, in practice, pass the ball well,” the coach said. “But when you have another team’s varsity defense bringing pressure on you, that pocket closes in a hurry sometimes. And being able to see through a defense is such a mature position for a quarterback. And so I think when it comes to Grant, he’s really improved on being able to read passing concepts and read his progressions as far as by checking down to finding that open receiver.” The win over Brown County concluded a grueling series of four games, after four easy ones. Carrollton ended the regular season with wins over four playoff teams — Greenfield-Northwestern, West Central, Mendon and Brown County. That stretch got the Hawks ready for the playoffs. Carrollton’s varsity players still

Dennis Mathes | Journal-Courier

Carrollton’s Gus Coonrod makes a touchdown catch during a game against Mendon earlier this season.

haven’t played much in the fourth quarter this season, but they get to play in the second half over the past four weeks. “That shock factor of playing lesser opponents and then getting in the playoffs and facing quality opponents — we’re not going to have that,” Flowers said. “We now know what it’s like to face playoff teams. And so I really think that has definitely helped to prepare us for the first round of the playoffs here.” At the same time, blowout wins in the first half of the season helped the Hawks develop a little more depth than they had at the beginning of the season. “I think right now our younger guys coming on the field now in certain situations, I think they’re more prepared with varsity games under their belt. So I think that can help us later on in the postseason.” “Our offense is clicking on most cylinders right now. So I’m happy with the way we’ve developed over the

season.” offensive timing and trust are the biggest thing. “The players have built trust in one another over the season. So I really feel like we’re really playing team football. We’ve kind of hung our hat on that in general in the past, with kind of spreading the wealth out a little bit. But I think this year especially, we’re really playing good team football.” As well as Pohlman has played this season, the Hawks’ offense has been anything but a one-man show. Carrollton’s special teams units are playing well, with Hayden Flowers punting and Kyle Leonard handling PATs and kickoffs. Line play has been a strength for this team all season, on both sides of the ball. Flowers expected a big season from running back Harley Angel, and Angel has delivered. “We’ve said if we can get Harley clicking and take a little bit of the overall pressure off of Grant, and really be able to average a bunch of rushing yards, then we could be a pretty good team behind this line,” Flowers said. “And I think that Harley has risen to the occasion, and he’s doing a really nice job. And so if we can keep that intensity up when it comes to Harley running the ball, and playing good linebacker play, I think we’re going to have a special postseason here.” Shelbyville (5-4), Saturday’s first-round opponent, is the largest school in Class 1A in the postseason this year. Carrollton, for whatever reason, has had to play several teams with larger enrollments in the playoffs over the past several years, from Tuscola, to Maroa-Forsyth and Arthur-Lovington and Athens. Shelbyville has 70 more boys in its school than Carrollton does. “They’re big up front, they have good receivers, their quarterback’s left-handed — throws a nice ball,” Flowers said. “And defensively, they play a really fun defensive scheme where they move a lot of guys around and bring a lot of pressure. And so it’s going to be a really good matchup for us.” Carrollton is ready. “It’s been a fun regular season,” Flowers said, “and we hope it continues over the next five weeks.”



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Early wins lift Brown County By Travis Zuellig

For the Journal-Courier

It was a tough end to the season for the Brown County football team. After winning the first four games and the fifth in Week 6, the Hornets hit a rough patch, falling to Mendon Unity, Greenfield-Northwestern and Carrollton to close out the season. “I just think we have played some really tough teams, and we have played some really good competition. All three of those teams are playoff teams,” Brown County coach Tom Little said. “We knew our schedule from top to bottom was going to be tough, and we knew we had to get those five wins early to make ourselves eligible for the playoffs. We are glad we got those early wins and hopefully, we will learn from these late losses.” Earning that fifth win over Routt in Week 6 was enough for the Hornets to qualify for the IHSA Class 1A playoffs with a 5-4 record. This will be Brown County’s 15th playoff appearance under Little. The Hornets will travel to Toledo to play Cumberland (8-1) on Saturday. Kickoff is at 2 p.m. Despite the three-game skid to close out the regular season, the Hornets rattled off some big wins earlier in the season, starting with a 14-9 victory over Triopia at home in Week 3. The next week, Brown County traveled to Camp Point Central and pulled off the 22-20 upset, handing the top-seeded Panthers their only loss of the season. A stop on a late two-point conversion sealed the

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Brown County’s Gabe Blakeley heads for the end zone after catching a pass during a game against Routt in Jacksonville earlier this season.

victory for the Hornets. The other wins this season came against Calhoun and North Greene. Little said his team continues to improve every week. “We have a good group of guys that work hard, and we are really happy

with our group,” the coach said. “And we can keep improving them each and every week we are around them, and hopefully, this is another week they can get improvement. Hopefully, we can get a win and another week of practice and preparation.”

The defense has been key to the Hornets’ success this season. Brown County allowed 189 points on the season and outside of the final three games, no opponent scored more than 21 points. Seniors Mason Henry and Luke Hedden are the leaders on defense. Henry, a defensive lineman, recorded double-digit sacks this year and has been key to putting pressure on the quarterback. Hedden is the hard-hitting middle linebacker. The offense is led by senior quarterback Tate Fullerton. Little has been pleased with Fullerton’s leadership commanding the offense. “(Fullerton) has done a nice job of making some big plays when he’s had to,” Little said. “He controls the offense for us and does a lot of nice things. When he gets everybody on the same page, that offense is pretty good.” Cumberland is not a stranger to the IHSA Class 1A playoffs as the Pirates have qualified in each of the past four seasons. They are coming off a very strong season. Cumberland’s only loss was in Week 4 to playoff-bound Arcola. The Pirates led the Lincoln Prairie Conference with 325 points scored, averaging 36.1 per contest. “They score a lot of points — a high-scoring offense,” Little said. “They can run and throw the ball, and a great balance between those two aspects. They have a good kicker and defensively, they don’t give up a lot of points, especially in the last five or six games. They are balanced in all aspects of football, and it’s going to be a tough game on Saturday.”


10 • Friday, October 29, 2021 • Jacksonville Journal-Courier

Storybook turnaround for Beardstown By Dennis Mathes

The Beardstown football team wishes it could have one game back. But in one of those real-life storybook seasons, after winning just one game in the spring, the Tigers are back in the playoffs under first-year head coach Elliott Craig. “It’s been kind of an up-and-down, up-and-down, see-saw type year,” Craig said. “I guess you never really know. Kind of a nice bounce-back year, I would say, for the kids.” Craig handed out a questionnaire to his players at the beginning of the year asking them what would make this a successful season. Making the playoffs was the number one goal. “Most of them had down as one of their main goals to play Week 10, so that’s kind of what we ended up doing,” the coach said. It’s taken quite a bit of doing to get here. After a terrible spring and the surprise announcement that Robbi Howard was leaving, Craig came in as a new coach with a new system, changing even some very basic things. The Tigers made it work. After two lopsided losses to start the season, Beardstown came back to win five games, including an overtime victory over Triopia and a stunning win over Brown County, which at the time was ranked No. 2 in the state. Beardstown’s four losses came against four teams that could make long runs in the playoffs. “We did enough, and we finished with the record and plenty of points — we had 41 points. … This is always a good league,” Craig said. “I think if you win five games, you’ve earned your right to get in, in this league.” Beardstown started the season without running back Christy Domitien, who wound up with close to 300 rushing yards. “We’ve had our fair share of adversity,” Craig said. “I mean, Christy Domitien didn’t play the first two weeks because he was quarantined. And you miss two weeks of football activity, it’s hard to just come right back — especially when you’re trying

Dennis Mathes | Journal-Courier

Beardstown’s Lucas Domitien takes a handoff during a game against Mendon at Beardstown earlier this season.

to learn a new system. That didn’t help, when he’s one of your better players, that you basically didn’t have him for over half of the season.” Quarterback Jacob Pate finished with more than 800 yards passing. “I think our quarterback did a nice job, Jacob did, of learning what we wanted him to do,” Craig said. “He’s got almost 1,000 yards through the air. We’ve probably been more of a run-first team, and we haven’t been quite the 50-50 that maybe I wanted. But we’ve been efficient. When we’ve needed to throw, he can certainly throw.” Two head-scratchingly lopsided losses to Greenfield-Northwestern and West Central prompted coaches to make some changes. “It’s come together,” Craig said. “We made some adjustments. The first two games weren’t real good offensively, to put it mildly, and quite honestly, because the offense struggled so badly, it put our defense in some bad

positions. I’m not saying if we played Greenfield today or West Central again today, that we’d line up and beat them. But I do think the scores of those games would be drastically different than what they were weeks one and two. “But we made some offensive adjustments. I think I was trying to do something with certain kids that I thought that they could do it, but then after a couple of weeks, it wasn’t working out. So I made some adjustments there. I don’t want to say ‘simplified’ things, but kind of adjusted and made a few things different that I thought would make it a little bit easier. And it kind of took off. After those games, offensively, you take those two games out, and — I know the Mendon game, we didn’t score, but we kind of took off. We scored 28 against Camp Point. I know we gave up a lot of points, but … it started to click, and I think the kids started to believe in it a little more.”

The Tigers made a few changes defensively, too, but football is a lot easier when you score points. Beardstown’s offensive line had to learn new schemes, new terminology and a new way of blocking that fit with Craig’s offense. “Everything from ground level is new and different to them, from what they had been doing,” the coach said. “And I think they’ve done a pretty good job of picking it up. Even the defensive side of things — just with terminology, and we’ve had to move so many different pieces around, it just seems like, from week to week because of injuries and COVID or whatever. We’ve had a lot of different situations, it seems like, week in and week out, where we’ve had to start different people — especially on that side of the ball. “I think it’s come together well.” Craig praised assistant coaches Brad Allen, AJ Gand, Chad Grimm, who all went above and beyond this season. “My three assistant coaches are fantastic people and good coaches,” Craig said. “Allen and Gand and Grimm — all three, they’ve worked their butts off. It wasn’t just the kids who had to learn new stuff — they did, too. They just do a phenomenal job. I’ve had a lot of assistants in my years work under me, and these three guys are just as good as anybody I’ve ever had. There’s no doubt.” Beating Williamsville in the first round will be a tall order. “They’re 8-1. They’ve won their league for I don’t know how many years. They’ve been good,” Craig said. “They’ve been in state title games … won a state title — I don’t know all their history, other than they’ve been good for a long time, and they play in a good league, and they’ll be at home. But that doesn’t mean that we’re not going to prepare and play the best that we can.” Craig has coached teams that have sprung upsets against undefeated teams in the playoffs. “It can be done, and I’ve been part of that before,” he said. To be successful on Saturday, Craig said it’s important for his team to convert on third down and keep Beard-

Jacksonville Journal-Courier • Friday, October 29, 2021 • 11 stown’s offense on the field as long as possible. “I think we’ve got to stay on the field offensively, and try to keep the ball out of their hands,” the coach said. “And then, you know, if you can try to force some turnovers when they have it … turnovers can be the great equalizer. There’s no doubt about that.” The Tigers also have a secret weapon in field goal kicker Alan Villegas, who can hit from 40. “There’s a few things that we can do, I think, to help neutralize some of their stuff,” Craig said, “but ultimately, like usual, it comes down to blocking and tackling, and whichever team usually does that the best that day is the team that’s going to win.” Craig said he hopes that making the playoffs will encourage student-athletes who didn’t come out for the team this year, for whatever

reason, to give it a shot next season. Keeping interest in football high for junior high players will be important for the growth of the program. “Football is a numbers game,” the coach said. Nobody knows that better than Craig, who coached an eight-man football team for the past several years. He said he enjoyed having a big team. “The thing that I missed the most, probably, was, it was nice to have 40 kids out at practice again, and the ability to actually practice the way you need to practice if you’re going to be competitive,” he said. It’s been a good season. “It always feels good to win enough and watch the playoff show again on Saturday night,” Craig said. “Those types of little things, as a coach, are kind of nice, too.”




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