CHARLESTON — As the Coles County Clash approaches on Friday, the Mattoon and Charleston football teams have a combined one victory in six games between them. Mattoon picked up its first win of the season again Lincoln last week and Charleston is 0-3 on the season.
But as both coaches said, records don’t matter when the two teams face each other.
“Anytime you do this game, throw the records out the window,” Mattoon coach Troy Johnson said. “Your records are 0-0, it almost doesn’t matter what you do the rest of the year, this is that one game that’s important right now. It’s a fun game, it’s why you play high school athletics. It’s a great atmosphere. Love playing it at Eastern and the fans are awesome.”
There’s a little bit more on the line for Charleston, though. Not only are the Trojans looking for their first win of the season, but they are hoping to snap a four-game losing streak to the Green Wave. Charleston is 1-4 since the rivalry restarted in 2012, with the Trojans' only victory coming in the first season of the Coles County Clash.
“It doesn’t matter we are 0-3 or they are 3-0, throw out the records. I think this year it could be a fun game to watch,” Charleston coach Tyler Hanner said. “I think this is a more determined group maybe than we’ve had the past couple of years. You can definitely tell the mood is a little different in practice. It’s definitely a mood change the last couple of weeks, it doesn’t seem to be quite the cheery atmosphere we have around here.
“I think they want the trophy and I think they want a little of the bragging rights and come back here and ring our bell.”
The game can be heard on Victory 103.9 or 101.3 WMCI.
Even though the Trojans lost to Taylorville 55-20 last week, it was the best offensive performance for Charleston this season. Hanner hopes to see the offense take another step this week.
“We were able to run the ball. Seth (Higgins) threw the ball fairly effectively, completing 58 percent of his passes. For high school football, that’s pretty decent,” Hanner said. “It was nice to see us be able to run the football against a pretty good Taylorville front. It was clicking and we had some rhythm.”
Griffin Green was Higgins' favorite target after catching eight passes in the loss to Taylorville.
“He’s always kind of a threat if he can get the ball in space. He has the size to shrug off a tackle or two and the speed to outrun some guys,” Hanner said. “The hope is, if they key on him, we can make them pay by hitting some of our other athletes.”
Mattoon’s defense struggled in the first two weeks of the season against Troy and Mascoutah, allowing 48 points in each game. The Green Wave’s defense played better in the first half against Lincoln and had a shutout going before the Railsplitters put 27 points on the board in the second half. Mattoon still held on for the 34-27 win.
Johnson is hoping to see the defense from the first half of the game against Lincoln.
“We are looking to continue to get better in all aspects of our game,” Johnson said. “We got better at some of them at times and then we would regress. That’s all I want out of our guys, just continue to get better and try and fix the issues that we have. The things that we are doing well, continue to do those well.”
Abe Baker had an impressive first start at fullback for the Green Wave against Lincoln as he rushed for 111 yards. Johnson has also been searching for a spot for the sophomore on defense because of the hard work Baker has put in.
“Abe stepped in and has been running some reps in practice. We’ve been looking at him in three different spots, a couple on defense,” Johnson said. “He’s a great, hard-working kid. There’s a lot of stuff getting thrown at him, especially when you switch from one position to another defensively and some of the things we ask him to do. He earns everything he gets.
“He’s a weight room kid, a program kid. He’s a big, strong, hard-running person.”
Mattoon rushed for more than 400 yards as a team last week. Baker was one of two runners who went over 100 yards as Julian Gittens rushed for 279 yards.
Johnson thought the offensive line played well to open up some holes, and he’s hoping the run game opens up the passing game a bit more.
“Hopefully we will progress and you have to do something well to open up the other thing, whether it's thrown well to open up the run because people have to expand to you or run the ball so people have to tighten down and you can throw the ball a little better,” Johnson said. “We have some capable people to do both, and hopefully that will continue to expand as the year goes on.”
Defensively, Charleston had its worst game of the season against Taylorville. After giving up 50 points combined in its first two games of the season, Charleston allowed 55 points to the Tornadoes last week.
Taylorville has a good offense, but Hanner thought the defense could’ve played better last week.
“We have to shore up things. We didn’t play well inside the box to defend the run. Really, overall, it was a lack of tackling,” Hanner said. “Not to put any of our guys down, but we didn’t tackle well and that’s the long and short of it. They have a couple of long runs that shouldn’t have been there if we have guys wrapping up. Fifty-five points is a little exaggeration of what it should’ve been, but the defense just didn’t show up.”