SHELBYVILLE — In order for Shelbyville, a team that is 9-2, to reach the semifinals of the Class 2A Illinois High School Association playoffs, the Rams have to beat 11-0 Westville, a team that was ranked No. 6 in the final Associated Press rankings.
Last week the Rams beat Tri-Valley, a team that was ranked No. 5, 50-35, while the Tigers beat Carlyle 46-28.
"They have very good players at the skill positions," said Shelbyville coach Bill Duckett. "One of their receivers is very good at adjusting to the ball and is a dynamic player. They have two running backs that run hard and compliment each other well."
The game is set for 1 p.m. Saturday, with the winner to play the victor of the Maroa-Forsyth at West Hancock game in the semifinals. If the Rams win, the game is to be at Shelbyville no matter who wins the Maroa-West Hancock game.
Westville won the Vermilion Valley Conference going 6-0, and the school has an enrollment of 388. The Tigers have not scored fewer than 19 points in a game and have two shutouts. Westville averages 42.7 points per game while allowing 11.5 points.
"Defensively, the jump between a 4-2 and a 5-1 look and play man coverage," said Duckett, whose team enters with an average of 47 points per game and allows 16.6. The Rams have scored at least 20 points in a game and have three shutouts.
Westville has both a 1,000-yard passer and a 1,000-yard rusher in 5-8, 155-pound senior quarterback Duncan Hathaway and 5-8, 190-pound running back Owen Mariage-Tucker. Hathaway is efficient, completing 65 percent of his passes (70-of-108 for 1,193 yards and 16 touchdowns with only one interception, while Mariage-Tucker had 131 carries for 1,066 yards and 16 touchdowns. Cameron Nicholas is next in rushing with 96 carries for 863 yards and 17 touchdowns. Nicholas is a 6-1, 195-pound senior.
Tylan Stricklett is the top receiver with 41 catches for 877 yards and 12 touchdowns and the next highest is 15 by Nicholas. Stricklett is a 6-2, 180-pound senior.
The Tigers have 15 seniors and Shelbyville had 18.
The Rams returned many players from last year, including 6-3, 200-pound quarterback Turner Pullen, who is 157-of-231 (.680) for 2,773 yards and 39 touchdowns with just five interceptions. He has also run for a team-high 731 yards on 128 carries.
Westville lost nine starters on offense and eight on defense from a team that was in the Class 3A playoffs last year losing to Monticello 41-14. Hathaway is a three-year starter.
"They run the 'I', wishbone and spread," said Duckett of Westville. "Their quarterback is quick and throws a good ball. They have one back (Nicholas) that is bigger and runs hard, while Mariage-Tucker is a little smaller, but faster and gets a few more carries."
Cade Helton is next in rushing for the Rams with 98 carries for 527 yards and six touchdowns while sophomore speedster Kentrell Beck has 52 receptions for 1,063 yards and 14 touchdowns. Mason Cameron, Brett Spears and Cade Watson all have 25, 25 and 28 receptions each.
The Rams seniors have been the playoffs all four years and Westville is making its third straight.
"The seniors have had success at every level they have played," said Duckett. "I think many things can change from freshman year to senior and some groups who don't have success as freshmen end up working hard and developing into a great team. This group has continued improving throughout their years."
Shelbyville and Westville played one other time in the playoffs in the second round of the 2004 playoffs with the Rams winning 40-7 as Will Clark ran for 137 yards and scored four touchdowns.
The Tigers are coached by Guy Goodlove, who is in his 23rd year with a record of 136-102 and has guided Westville to all 13 playoff appearances.
The Pullen-to-Beck combination worked 12 times for 245 yards and two touchdowns last week. Beck tied a state playoff record in Class 2A for the most receptions in a game. He tied Jeff Finke of Casey-Westfield and Tom Rayhill of Decatur St. Teresa.
"They are both great athletes and have a great connection with each other," said Duckett. "That has carried over from last year and both are breaking a lot of records for us this year."
Playing in the Central Illinois Conference helps, said Duckett.
"We played some very good teams this year and that definitely helps when you have to play quality playoff teams," said Duckett. "You are then used to the competition and have been in situations that give you experience."
As for keys to the game, Duckett said, "We have to take care of the ball and not have any turnovers. We also need to eliminate penalties that we can control."