Week eight of the high school football season means it is the final week of play in the Little Okaw Valley Conference Northwest and Southeast Divisions, and in both divisions, the title is on the line.
In the LOVC SE, the championship game is at Cumberland where the Pirates, who have won six straight, face Villa Grove/Heritage, a team that has won four consecutive games. Both teams are 4-0 in the division. Villa Grove is also playing for its sixth win to qualify for the playoffs.
It is not that simple in the LOVC NW, unless Argenta-Oreana beats Decatur LSA, which would give the Bombers the title. However, if the Lions win and Arcola beats Sangamon Valley/Tri-City, the division ends with tri-champions with A-O, Decatur LSA/Decatur Christian and Arcola. The Purple Riders are 3-1 in the division and are also playing for their sixth win, which would put them in the playoffs.
In the Central Illinois Conference, Shelbyville, the sixth-ranked team in Class 1A, is to play host to Central A&M, a team that is looking for its sixth win to make the playoffs. The Rams are 4-1 in the conference and tied with Decatur St. Teresa for second, and they need a win to stay in the title hunt behind 5-0 Tuscola. Also in the conference, Sullivan/Okaw Valley plays host to St. Teresa, the No. 8 team in Class 3A.
Also in the LOVC SE Martinsville goes for its second straight win at Oblong, while Tri-County is to travel to Hutsonville/Palestine and needs to win to keep its hopes of finishing 5-4 and being playoff eligible. The Titans are 3-4.
Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond is in the same position as Tri-County, as the Knights are 3-4 and are to play host to Cerro Gordo/Bement in an LOVC NW Division game.
Casey-Westfield is to play host to Marshall in the Little Illini Conference.
All games are to start at 7 p.m.
Central A&M (5-2, 3-2) at Shelbyville, No. 6 in Class 1A (6-1, 4-1)
Central A&M averages 29.7 points per game and allows 30.9, while the Rams score a conference-leading 49.4 per game and allow 15.3, which is second in the conference.
Shelbyville is also coming off a 40-0 win over Clinton in what was an emotional game as coach Bill Duckett suffered a mini-stroke earlier that week and did not coach the team.
"Last week was a tough one for our program," said assistant coach Brad Hilbert, who is the head coach while Duckett recovers. "We made some mistakes, but we feel that we have learned from it, and we will continue to improve and focus on the goal at hand. We are in the playoffs, but we need to continue to improve and eliminate our mistakes. It is our Senior Night, so we will be feeding off that energy."
As for the way the team operates, Hilbert has no plans to change anything.
"The staff and the team agreed that we would keep the same practice formula and schedule and maintain our continuity. One major key was our offense and defensive lines were able to win in the trenches, putting up 40 points and over 500 yards of offense and keeping Clinton out of the end zone."
The Rams average 175.9 rushing and 240.7 passing, while the defense has allowed 93.7 rushing and 76.3 passing.
Turner Pullen averages 60 yards rushing and Cade Helton is at 51.7, while Pullen leads the area in passing with 240.7 per game with Kentrell Beck the top target with 31 receptions.
"Central A&M has several good athletes and they are well coached," said Hilbert. "They have several wrinkles on the offensive side of the ball and they are disciplined on defense. Coach (Brent) Weakly will have the Raiders fired up and prepared for us. Defensively, we need to recognize each formation and align properly. Coach Weakly has some great offenses that can be tough to prepare for. We will do our best to apply pressure and not allow any big plays. As always it will come down to tackling."
Villa Grove/Heritage (5-2, 4-0) at Cumberland (6-1, 4-0)
Cumberland is coming off a 63-12 win over Tri-County, while Villa Grove beat Oblong 48-6. The Pirates led the Titans just 20-0 at the half before outscoring Tri-County 27-6 in the third quarter.
"I think that we really got our running game gone in the second half and that was the key to pulling away," said Cumberland coach Lucas Watkins. "Our offensive line stepped up and Coltin Scott (12 carries for 227 yards and three touchdowns) ran the ball very hard."
Defensively, Watkins said the most important was "keying on their running backs and our linebackers playing downhill. I thought our front four did a nice job of getting penetration also."
The two teams are first and second in points scored and points allowed in the division, with Cumberland leading in both categories with 40.9 points scored and 7.6 allowed. The Blue Devils average 36.3 and allow 20.4.
"My main concern is their athletic ability and containing their speed," said Watkins. "Also, their ability to throw the ball has me concerned."
Watkins said, for the most part, the team is healthy and he is glad it is a home game.
"I think playing at home is an advantage," said Watkins. "Anytime you can avoid spending an hour on a bus before a game, I think that is advantageous."
Defensively, Watkins said, "We must look to eliminate their big play ability. We must get pressure on their quarterback and not allow him to get comfortable in the pocket."
Decatur St. Teresa, No. 8 in Class 3A (6-1, 4-1) at Sullivan/Okaw Valley (0-7, 0-5)
St. Teresa had its six-game winning streak snapped, falling to Tuscola, the No. 2 team in Class 1A, 24-21, and need to win to remain in the CIC race.
The Bulldogs have a potent offense, with an average of 40.3 points per game and a defense that allows 17.4 points.
Sullivan is coming off a 46-14 loss to Central A&M, a team that St. Teresa beat 55-20.
The Redskins are led in rushing by Luke Bowman, who averages 54.7 yards per game, while quarterback Luke Harlin averages 58.8 with Seth Bricker the top receiver with eight receptions.
Marshall (4-3, 4-2) at Casey-Westfield (1-6, 1-5)
Marshall is coming off a 28-8 loss to Newton, a team that beat Casey 49-14. The Warriors lost to Red Hill, the seventh-ranked team in Class 1A, 52-20, trailing 24-6 at the half.
Trey Clark, the area's top running back in terms of yardage, had 23 carries for 88 yards in the game with a touchdown. He averages 112.9 per game. Quarterback Jarod Brandenburg averages 54.1 passing, with Trenton Day the top receiver with 15 catches.
The Lions average 23.3 points per game and allow 20.6, while Casey enters with an average of 17 and allows 39.
Arcola (5-2, 3-1) at Sangamon Valley/Tri-City (1-6, 0-4)
Sangamon Valley has lost six straight after starting the season with a 25-20 win over Palestine/Hutsonville, a team Arcola beat 62-6.
The Storm has not scored in the last two games and has not scored more than one touchdown since falling to Oblong 22-15 Sept. 1.
Arcola is on a three-game winning streak, which includes a 47-14 win over A-L-A-H last Friday. Quarterback Conner Strader has moved up in the area rushing leaders to sixth with an average of 69.6, while Austin Hopkins leads the Purple Riders at 108.1. Strader averages 86.6 passing with Martin Rund the top receiver with 14 catches.
Cerro Gordo/Bement (2-5, 1-3) at Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond (3-4, 1-3)
Cerro Gordo enters on a three-game losing streak, including a 37-6 loss to Decatur LSA, a team that beat A-L-A-H 52-0. The Broncos' last win was a 31-6 game against Sangamon Valley, which was also the Knights' last win, beating the Storm 19-0.
"My main concerns about Cerro Gordo/Bement are the diversification of their offense, as well as they are the only team we have faced this year that uses a 3-3 stack defense," said A-L-A-H coach Dale Schuring.
The Knights average 164.3 yards per game rushing and 53.9 passing. Marcus Vanausdoll leads in rushing with 71 yards per game, while Will Cohan, who has not played the last two games, averages 63.6 yards per game. In his place has been freshman Brady Borntreger. Kobe Wells is the top receiver with 10 catches.
"We could get a couple of kids back this week," said Schuring. "We just aren't 100 percent sure on any of them yet. We should have everyone that has played the last two weeks."
The Knights' defense has three players that average between 9.9 and 7.4 tackles per game in Lucas Otto, Vanausdoll and Adam Day.
Schuring said establishing a running game is the key offensively.
"I think our ability to cover the pass and at the same time contain the quarterback in the pocket is a key to victory," said Schuring. "We also need to establish some drives on offense and tackling. And our competition level — all are keys."
Martinsville (1-5, 1-3) at Oblong (2-5, 1-3)
The Bluestreaks enter with a lot of confidence as they ended a 13-game losing streak and 16-game LOVC SE losing streak with a convincing 45-6 win over Palestine/Hutsonville last Friday. The game was strange in that the Pioneers stopped the game with two minutes left in the third quarter.
"They said they were out of players to use," said Martinsville coach Obie Farmer. "I'm not sure how many they had to start the game, but I thought it was at least as many as us."
Martinsville is led in rushing by Garron Haenig, who averages 58.7 yards per game, while quarterback Boyce Snearley has thrown for 130.8 per game with Dalton Rollings the top receiver with 18 catches.
"The boys seem focused and driven since halftime of the Tri-County game a couple of weeks ago, and I just hope to keep it rolling through this week and the next," said Farmer. "Oblong is going to be another great test for our program. I hope we come out with the intensity that we are becoming used to."
Oblong has lost three straight, including falling to Villa Grove 48-6 last week. The Panthers beat Pal/Hut 15-6, which was their last victory.
"Oblong seems to always have a strategy to give themselves the best opportunity to compete," said Farmer. "I am sure that will be the case this week; it is every week."
Against the Pioneers, Farmer said, "Our offensive game plan was to spread them out and try and run the ball in the middle. It worked really well for the first couple of drives, but then their coach made adjustments and stopped us for a while. On defense, our game plan was to play aggressive. We wanted to lock down the receivers and not allow the quarterback time to make decisions. Our defensive line did an outstanding job. They brought pressure, drew double and triple teams, made plays in the backfield and most importantly gave our linebackers holes to attack through."
Tri-County (3-4, 2-2) at Palestine-Hutsonville (0-7, 0-4)
Palestine-Hutsonville is hoping to snap a nine-game losing streak and has struggled offensively, averaging 7.1 points per game and never more than 20. The Pioneers allow an average of 39.1. Tri-County lost to Cumberland 63-12 last week, a team that beat Palestine-Hutsonville 47-0. The Titans average 17 points per game and allow 35.
The Titans trailed the Pirates 20-0 at half against the Pirates.
Dylan Campbell averages 63.4 yards per game passing with Matthew Rideout catching a team-high 21, while Joey Keske leads the ground game at 74.1 yards per contest.