A look at Friday's Pontiac-Unity matchup
Pontiac lost 38-14 last year the first time the Indians squared off against Tolono Unity. The Rockets also had more firepower in a first-round playoff contest with a 61-42 victory.
Things have changed and Pontiac will be looking to turn the tables and claim its second win of the season when the Tribe hosts the Rockets Friday night in an Illini Prairie Conference tilt at Williamson Field.
“It’s always nice to start off 1-0, especially to go to a place like Central Catholic,” PTHS head coach Alan Kuchefski said Wednesday. “To go there and get one was very special for the guys.”
The win gives the Indians a 1-0 mark, something that hadn’t happened since a win at home over Winnebago in 2014. Unity lost a 34-13 decision at Illinois Valley Central last week.
Pontiac defeated BCC last week with a strong run game. Austin Norman gained 193 yards on 30 carries and PTHS picked up 292 yards on the ground. Quarterback Ben Schuler added 60 yards and threw 83 yards on 6 of 10 passing.
“I thought we controlled the ball real well in the first half; I thought the line was getting a good push,” Kuchefski said. “It was nice to see Ben Schuler come out in his first high school experience as quarterback and have the game that he did. He did a great job of taking care of the football — zero turnovers.”
That was a major key, and it will be this week. Kuchefski will be looking for the Indians to move the ball consistently and keep it away from the Rockets. That might be something of a tricky situation.
“They present challenges to us with the odd front they run,” Kuchefski said. “That’s something we don’t see a ton of and we’ve been working for several weeks against an even front to get ready for Central Catholic. I think we have a few wrinkles that will help us out.”
The Rockets will likely try to stack the box and make running the ball difficult. The offensive line will need to follow its keys and provide opportunities to move the ball, much like in the playoff shootout last year.
“We have to hope our offensive line remembers what they’ve been coached and they make those subtle changes we talked about,” Kuchefski said. “They typically play a cover-2 and their safeties come up, are really aggressive and get in on a lot of tackles.”
Norman had a solid game last week and Schuler looked like a veteran running the attack, but it was the line play that got things going early. It’s when the heat and two-way playing came into the play in the second half that the offense became sort of stagnant.
“Our key is to control the ball, run the clock and wear out the other team,” Kuchefski said. “We have to be able to throw the ball enough to loosen them up.”
Pontiac’s defense met last week’s challenge in allowing just two scoring drives — one in each half.
“The defense was really aggressive, they played real well,” Kuchefski said.
The defense will be challenged this week by an offense that can be deceptive.
Unity will run its option attack that gave the Indians headaches last year. The difference is Steven Migut graduated and the Rockets don’t appear as lethal with 20 of 22 starting positions gone.
“It’s a different group, so, hopefully, that will take care of some of that stuff. We have to find the football,” Kuchefski said.
Pontiac’s pass defense might be challenged. Kuchefski said that the secondary can’t get beat. He felt the group did well last week in not letting the Saints get behind them.
This game could have eventual league title implications, especially for Unity, who really cannot afford another loss is it wants a title.
For Pontiac going, 2-0 is a huge step forward for the program. Kuchefski just knows it won’t be easy.
“Regardless of what their record is, this is a team that beat us twice last year,” he said. “I know they lost a lot of guys, but we’ve lost some guys, as well. We certainly aren’t going to take them lightly.
“This is a team that’s gotten us twice, it would be nice to get that first win (against them).”
IN OTHER IPC contests, Prairie Central will be home against Central Catholic in the hopes of also going 2-0. League favorite Monticello, a 51-0 winner over Olympia last week gets another home game as the Sages host IVC. The Grey Ghosts defeated Unity last week. St. Joseph-Ogden opens its home season against Rantoul. The Spartans, like PTHS, PC, IVC and Monticello, are 1-0.