The Illinois High School Association released its football schedule last week and the first day of practice for the 2019 season is only 40 days away and season-openers are 58 days away.
The biggest change in the JGTC area is the first year of play in the Lincoln Prairie Conference, made up of several teams formerly of the Little Okaw Valley. But in its first year, the Lincoln Prairie only runs from week three through nine because several teams having contractual obligations such as week two when Tuscola travels to Arcola.
Lincoln Prairie Conference
Arcola reached the second round of the Class 1A playoffs last year and went 8-3 overall.
The team attended a two day camp at Rantoul hosted by Tolono Unity coach Scott Hamilton.
"We focused on football up there," said Arcola coach Nick Lindsey. "There is not a lot of distraction up there. It gives the kids a good opportunity to build team camaraderie."
There were four other teams participating.
"It is a great team camp," said Lindsey. "We got a lot of work done in a short amount of time. It is an opportunity to get better."
Arcola opens up at Argenta-Oreana in what is the third straight trip to Argenta for the Purple Riders.
"it is just the way the schedule goes," said Lindsey. "I am happy with how the schedule turned out and I am looking forward to the season."
In Week 2, Arcola hosts Tuscola in the 106th edition of the Cola War. The Purple Riders open up LPC play at Villa Grove against Villa Grove/Heritage in Week 3.
"It is always good to have tests early," said Lindsey. "It gives you what you need to work on and what you need to fix. I love the early tests. I think the schedule is pretty balanced as far as the level of play. I am looking forward to playing Villa Grove, a team and teams we have not seen in the past."
Arcola's first home Lincoln Prairie Conference game is also its Homecoming game against Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond on Sept. 20. Arcola then goes on the road at Cumberland and Sangamon Valley before hosting Tri-County and Blue Ridge. The Purple Riders close the regular season at Decatur LSA.
Cumberland, a team that made the playoffs last year going 7-3, has three of its first four games on the road, including making an hour-and-a-half trip to Farmer City to face Blue Ridge/Deland-Weldon, a team it has not played. Another team they have not played since 2015 is Cerro Gordo-Bement.
"You can't do much about the schedule," said Cumberland coach Lucas Watkins. "You play your opponents and come out and play to the best of your ability."
Cumberland has played Casey-Westfield in 7-on-7 competition and was at West Vigo, Ind., June 8. They will be at Robinson in mid-July and have a couple of games against Newton and Marshall.
Tri-County has four home games and five road games, with the second half of the schedule (Argenta-Oreana, Cumberland, Arcola, Sangamon Valley and Cerro Gordo-Bement) the toughest going by last year's records.
Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond had three of four games at home after the season-opener at Oakland against Tri-County. The Homecoming game is Sept. 27 against Blue Ridge/Deland-Weldon.
Central Illinois Conference
Shelbyville starts its season off by playing on Aug. 31, a Saturday, at 2 p.m. at Seneca. The Irish went 4-5 last year and are coached by Ted O'Boyle, a former Charleston football assistant and baseball assistant. O'Boyle is the son of former Shelbyville coach Denny O'Boyle.
The Rams get to travel two hours and 40 minutes north for the game before hosting Cerro Gordo-Bement on Sept. 6 and starting Central Illinois Conference play by hosting Clinton. On Sept. 20, Shelbyville takes on Sullivan/Okaw Valley at Bethany on Okaw Valley's Homecoming game. Two more home games follow against Warrensburg-Latham for Homecoming and Central A&M before hitting the road to Meridian and Tuscola. The regular season ends at home against Decatur St. Teresa.
Sullivan/Okaw Valley's Nathan Becker starts his head coaching career by hosting Nokomis/Ramsey. After a road game at Newton, SOV hosts Shelbyville at Bethany and travels to Meridian in the first two games of the CIC. A challenging Homecoming game is next as the Rams host to Tuscola before another tough game at Decatur St. Teresa. Sullivan finishes off the regular season at Clinton and hosts Central A&M.
Little Illini Conference
The first three opponents for Casey, which is hoping to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2014, are at Olney, at Paris and home against Newton. The three teams combined for a 22-9 record and all three were playoff teams.
"The first three games are three of the better teams we play all year without a doubt," said Casey coach Jay Bohner. "Paris is the defending Little Illini Conference champions and they bring back several key players. Olney brings back a lot of key players and Newton graduated some very good players, but they always seem to find running backs."
The next four opponents — Flora, Robinson, Lawrenceville and South Newton, Ind. — went a combined 3-34. Casey finished with Marshall and at Red Hill, a team that went 8-2 last season.
"We talked about those first three games with the kids and how we have got to be prepared right out of the gate," said Bohner. "We have to be in mid-season form by week one. I am happy with the schedule. It is nice to have the eight games set and you only have to get one game. It is nice to know we don't have to make the two-and-a-half-hour drive to Kentland, Ind (South Newton High School). Everybody looks forward to the Clark County Super Bowl (Casey vs. Marshall)."
Casey is at Robinson on July 13 and Clifton Central on July 27 for 7-on-7 tournaments.
Bohner is also pleased that for the first time in three seasons Casey will be able to field a junior varsity team, as there are 15 freshmen.
Martinsville and Oblong/Palestine-Hutsonville are the only teams left in the Little Okaw Valley. In order to be a conference representative in the playoffs, the conference must have at least five teams.
The two LOVC teams will play each other on the final regular season night of Oct. 25 at Oblong. It is the shortest road trip for Martinsville — 45 minutes.
Numbers have been a problem for several years at Martinsville, a school of 112 students, and it looks like they will be again. Martinsville has seven games, with the open dates on Oct. 4 and Oct. 18.
"My hope is to have 15 players this year," said Martinsville coach Shane McDearmon. "That is basically the same number we had the last year. We had more at the end of the year but had injuries also. We need numbers."
The Bluestreaks open up an hour-and-45 minutes away at Farmer City against Blue Ridge before hosing its only three games of the season: Against Sangamon Valley (two-hour trip), Abingdon-Avon (three-and-a-half hours) for a Saturday game on Sept. 14, and Union of Dugger, Ind., which travels an hour and is Martinsville's Homecoming and Senior Night.
For one of the first times in years, Martinsville is the bigger school when it makes a two-hour trip to Kincaid to play South Fork.
"It was one of those teams that came up when we were looking for teams and they looked like a good one and going by the numbers it could be a competitive type of game," said McDearmon.
Oct. 11 is the next game for the Bluestreaks, who travel an hour-and-50 minutes to Nokomis to play Nokomis/Ramsey before an open date and the game against Oblong/Palestine-Hutsonville.
Martinsville is playing 11-man football this season, but the subject of eight-man football has come up.
Eight-man football grew from six schools in 2018 to 16 this season.
Week-by-week games of interest
Week one (Aug. 30): Arcola at Argenta-Oreana. A-O won last year's contest, which was in week seven, 22-9, in a key Little Okaw Valley Conference Northwest Division game. Although it is not a conference game, it gets the winner off on the right foot.
Honorable mention: Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond at Tri-County
Week two (Sept. 6): Tuscola at Arcola. Not only is it the 106th Cola War, but it is the first time the two Douglas County schools have met in Arcola since 2005. Not only that, but the annual Broom Corn Festival starts that day and should draw more fans to one of the oldest rivalries in the state.
Honorable mention: Casey-Westfield at Paris.
Week three (Sept. 13): Newton at Casey-Westfield. First home game for the Warriors, who went 5-4 last year, but missed out due to playoff points and lost to the Eagles 21-7 last year.
Honorable mention: Arcola at Villa Grove/Heritage (first Lincoln Prairie Conference game and the first time the two have met since 2013).
Week four (Sept 20): Shelbyville vs. Sullivan/Okaw Valley at Bethany. Okaw Valley's Homecoming in this area matchup between two Central Illinois Conference teams.
Honorable mention: Tri-County at Decatur LSA
Week five (Sept. 27): Martinsville vs. South Fork at Kincaid. Two of the smaller schools in the state with football play each other in a non-conference game. The Bluestreaks were 0-8, while South Fork was 2-7. Martinsville's enrollment is 112, while South Fork's is 90.5.
Honorable mention: Arcola at Cumberland
Week six (Oct. 4): Central A&M at Shelbyville. Former Shelbyville assistant coach Brent Weakly brings his Raiders into Ram Country for a Central Illinois Conference game.
Honorable mention: Cumberland at Tri-County
Week seven (Oct. 11): Villa Grove/Heritage at Cumberland. These two teams usually met for the Little Okaw Valley Conference Southeast Division title. Now they meet in the LPC and it is the Homecoming game for the Pirates.
Honorable mention: Tri-County at Arcola
Week eight (Oct. 18): Marshall at Casey-Westfield. The Clark County rivals have the Warrior playing the Lions, a team that was 4-5 last year. Always a great atmosphere when these two teams meet and this one could be pivotal for both teams.
Honorable mention: Cerro Gordo/Bement at Cumberland
Week nine (Oct. 25): Tri-County at Cerro Gordo/Bement. The two teams have not played each other since the 2015 season-opener won by the Cerro Gordo 56-34. It could determine if the Titans get the playoffs or not.
Honorable mention: Casey-Westfield at Red Hill.