A preview of the Pontiac-Prairie Central football game
It’s been quite awhile since Pontiac and Prairie Central squared off in a football game with unbeaten records, if ever. The records show it hasn’t been done in the last 25 years. But it’s happening in 2018.
At 7 p.m. on Friday, the Hawks and Indians will square off in an Illini Prairie Conference contest at Lewis Field. Both will enter with 3-0 marks. At stake is a traveling trophy that Prairie Central has yet to obtain.
“We’ve heard rumors of that trophy,” PC head coach Kirk Brandenburg said. “Until our team steps up and proves it, they’re the favorite and we’re the underdog.”
Pontiac has defeated Prairie Central each of the last five years, including a 34-24 decision last season. The last time the Hawks prevailed was in 2012 with a 51-6 thumping.
“It will be interesting to see how our kids respond,” Brandenburg said. “The goals have been rather lofty, we’ve talked about keeping your eyes on the prize. I’m more interested in seeing if we can have a shot at being conference champs.”
The Hawks come in after posting wins over Rantoul, Central Catholic and Tolono. The Indians opened with a win at BCC and followed up with a home victory over Tolono and last week’s 40-7 thrashing of IVC in Chillicothe.
“I like the fact that we’re getting a team that’s 3-0,” PTHS head coach Alan Kuchefski said. “We’ve played some good names, teams that are historically good, but they’re having a down year. We can feel like this is a good test for us, to see if we’re as good as we think we are.”
There isn’t much at stake at this point of the season, but the winner will have an inside track to the IPC championship. There is also the idea of moving one step closer to securing a playoff berth.
“I think it does have playoff implications down the road. It might be the difference between a first-round home game and a first-round road game,” Brandenburg said. “It might not register now but I think it will down the road.”
Prairie Central has had a high-powered offense with 126 points scored through three games. The Hawks prefer to run the ball. Quarterback Collier Palmore has only thrown five passes, completing one for 33 yards and a touchdown.
The run game features quickness and deception. Four backs have rushed for more than 150 yards. Wyatt Steidinger leads the way with 403 after his 200-yard effort last week. He has eight TDs rushing and another receiving.
Fullback Matt Kerns has 362 yards and two touchdowns and Palmore has rushed for 215 yards and three TDs. Kaden King has added 153 yards and three touchdowns.
“I think we’ve shown we can run the ball. I think we have great balance, all four backs are a threat,” Brandenburg said.
“Where they’re dangerous with their speed is when they successfully execute their misdirection and you get lost, and then they’re through that first level and you’re trying to catch them,” Kuchefski said of the Hawks. “They do a good job of making sure that everybody is still an option. They do a great job of carrying their option out.
“We have to play sound, assignment football.”
Kuchefski pointed out that the triple option employed by the Hawks is difficult to simulate in practice. He sees a challenge for his defense.
Line play will be a factor. Brandenburg has been happy with troops in the trenches thus far. He feels that’s where this game will be won.
For Pontiac, Kuchefski is looking for his team to be more complete, like it was last week.
“I was looking for them, offensively, to play a complete game. We were finally able to (compete),” Kuchefski said. “The defense has been done so for all three games.”
Pontiac got out to big leads on Central Catholic and Unity in the first half but had trouble moving the ball in the second half of each game. Such wasn’t the case last week.
Pontiac’s size is a concern, but Brandenburg has more to worry about with Pontiac’s Austin Norman. Norman has rushed for 393 yards through three games.
“We have to focus on (Norman), but they have other players,” Brandenburg said. “The fullback is good up the middle, the quarterback is a good runner. (They) can hurt you. We have to play good team defense.”
Kuchefski expects PC to try to stop the run.
“They’re going to give us an even front, it will be a matter for us to figure out how aggressive they’re going to be in trying to stop the run,” Kuchefski said. “They key for us, against anyone we face, is finding that balance.”
The winner of this game will move to 4-0 on the season. The last time Pontiac went 4-0 was in 2010 when the Indians finished 11-1, losing to Metamora in the quarterfinals of the playoffs.
Prairie Central last went 4-0 in 2006 when the Hawks won 12 straight before falling to Addison (Driscoll) in the semifinals.