2021 fall preview: Scouting the Vermilion Valley North Division

Clifton Central

2021 spring record: 6-0

Coach: Brian Spooner

Worth noting: The Comets won their fourth-consecutive Sangamon Valley Conference title in the league’s final season in the spring and finished with 24 straight league wins. ... Quarterback Jay Lemenager and wide receiver Jacob Shoven have graduated, the former finishing as the program’s record holder in most passing categories, including over 5,000 yards in the air, while the latter leaves as the record holder in receptions, yards, and touchdowns. ... Junior returnee Luke Shoven will move into the signal caller spot after a pair of seasons as the backup behind Lemenager and will be joined senior All-SVC selection Dallas Rodriquez (OL/LB), classmates Carson Turner (WR/DB), Grant Grider (WR/LB), and junior Aiden Christianson (OL.DL). ... Junior Jace Meier will be looked to for speed out of the backfield with the ability to catch the ball as well, while juniors Tristan Scmidt (WR/DB) and Matthew Lursen (WR/DB) will also be targets in the passing game. ... Spooner feels that even though the program lost a decent sized senior group and is a bit inexperienced heading into this season, his club has enough versatile players who are willing to do what ever it takes to win. Clifton Central has made the playoffs in 19 of Spooner’s 22 seasons.

Dwight

2021 spring record: 2-3

Coach: Luke Standiford

Worth noting: The Trojans won their opening two games before dropping three straight to end the spring season. ... Standiford, in his fourth season at the helm, including Dwight’s last playoff appearance in his rookie campaign, lost his entire offensive and defensive lines, as well as the linebacking core to graduation, but returns nearly all skill position spots. ... Seniors Jeremey Kapper (TE/LB), Dillon Sarff (RB/WR/S), Dalton Galloway (OL/DL) and junior Austin Burkhardt (RB/LB) will be key returnees. Kapper was a Second Team All-SVC pick at TE, as was Sarff at DB, while Galloway will be expected to be the cog on both lines and Burkhardt saw time in the backfield after a number of injuries at that spot and ran the ball well. ... Senior Emmett Emmons (WR/OLB) started the last few games and was solid, while sophomore Connor Telford (RB/WR/DB) was good in a cup of coffee on varsity this spring – both will step into starting roles. ... Standiford said his club has been traditionally a ground-and-pound team, but getting the ball to the skill players in space may mean the offense could look a little different than in the past. ... The biggest key though will be how quickly and successfully the new linemen — mostly made up of underclassmen — adapt to the varsity pace and physicality.

Iroquois West

2021 spring record: 1-5

Coach: Jason Thiele

Worth noting: The Raiders lost their opening four games of the spring, then exploded for a 48-0 win over Walther Christian Academy, before falling to Seneca in the final minute in the season’s final contest. ... As like the spring, league opponents will try and find a way to get by 6-4, 265 pound senior offensive and defensive lineman Clayton Leonard, who is a University of Illinois commit and compiled 30 pancake blocks and 16 tackles. ... Iroquois West lost quarterback Ty Pankey to graduation, but return senior leading rusher Auston Miller (103 carries, 453 yards, 4 TDs) and juniors Trystyn Schacht and John Ahlden. ... Ahlden paced the squad with 43 tackles from his linebacker spot with fellow LB Schacht posting 40 stops, including 20 solo. ... Also back are top receivers in seniors Sam McMillian, Aiden Tilstra, and Damon Fowler. ... Thiele is in his second season for a Raiders program that has won just 24 games since the last playoff appearance in 2006, but look to be back on the up swing.

Momence

2021 spring record: 4-2

Coach: Wayne Walker

Worth noting: Momence was 1-8 in 2020, but turned things around with four wins in six outings this spring, including defeating perennial power Paxton-Buckley-Loda, blanking the Panthers in the second half. ... Junior quarterback Kud-de Bertam returns after throwing for 427 yards and rubbing for another 232, with classmate wideout Luis Barrera (12 receptions, 179 yards) being a likely target. ... Momence will look to replace graduated running back Tyshan Watkins, who rushed for 740 yards and scored 12 of the Redskins’ 23 touchdowns. ... Leading tackler Kody Lawrence has graduated, but senior defensive linemen Ethan Mills (29 tackles), Sam Petersen (26), and Dawson Petkunas (24), as well as linebacker Alex Moran (26) and free safety Barrera (25) all return for a solid core on defense.

Seneca

2021 spring record: 2-3

Coach: Terry Maxwell

Worth noting: The Fighting Irish finished the spring season with an exciting 25-22 road win over Iroquois West in former head coach Ted O’Boyle’s final game at the helm. ... Enter Terry Maxwell, who had worked as an assistant under O’Boyle for his nine seasons at Seneca, but the Power T will remain. ... Seneca will look to replace 19 of 22 starters from the spring, including leading rusher Ryan McCauley (517 rushing yards), as well as All-SVC linemen Gavin Robertson and Maveric Varland. ... Sophomore quarterback Nathan Grant and left tackle Wade Tondini are back on the offensive side and senior linebacker Carter Ellis on defense. ... Maxwell said junior LBs Colin Wright and Joe Hamilton saw a solid amount of playing time in the spring and is expecting them to team with Ellis to lead the defense. ... New faces that could make an immediate impact are juniors Braden Ellis (RB/CB) and Aiden Wood (OL/DL), as well as sophomores Asher Hamby (RB/FS) and Matt Dillon (OL/DL). ... A couple keys to a successful season for the Irish according to Maxwell will depend on who will fill the roles at backfield spots, how well Grant becomes an offensive threat, and winning the battles upfront.

Watseka

2021 spring record: 4-1

Coach: Stephen Rigsby

Worth noting: The Warriors were 11 seconds away from an undefeated spring season before Clifton Central scored a game-winning touchdown. ... New head coach Stephen Rigsby, who previously led El-Paso-Gridley to four playoff appearances in seven seasons from 2012-2018, will look to fill 20 of 22 starting spots, including two-year starting quarterback Drew Wittenborn. ... Returning starters are Brady Walwer, who will move from wide receiver to QB, and offensive lineman Michael Warren. ... Rigsby, who has a roster of five seniors, nine juniors, 10 sophomores, and nine freshmen, said he will be looking for seniors Chasine Walwer (RB) and transfer David Netzband (RB/LB), as well as juniors Michael Warren (OL/DL), D.J. Walker (WR/DB), and Dane Martin (WR) to step up as newcomers. ... He also added that many of the young players have responded well to learning new systems on both sides of the ball, but a successful season will depend on how well the offensive and defensive lines work together.

FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH

Luke Shoven, Jr., QB/DB, Clifton Central: Shoven will take over as the Comets signal caller and will look to help lead the program to its fifth consecutive conference title and first in the newly formed league.

Clayton Leonard, Sr., OL/DL, Iroquois West: A University of Illinois commit and an Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Class 1A All-State selection this spring, Leonard will be the line anchor on both sides of the ball for the Warriors.

Nathan Grant, So., QB/DB, Seneca: Grant brings shiftiness and quickness to the Irish’s Power T offense, which may have a few new wrinkles to it to take advantage of his athleticism.

Kud-de Bertam, Jr., QB, Momence: Bertam will look to build on a solid sophomore spring season in which he helped the program win four of six games, three more victories than the team had in a full year in 2019.

Dallas Rodriquez, Sr., OL/LB, Clifton Central: An All-Sangamon Valley All-Conference linebacker this spring, Rodriquez will again be one of the top defensive players in the league.

SCHEDULE

Clifton CentralDwightIroquois WestMomenceSenecaWatseka
Week 1at Bismarck-Henning; 7 p.m., Aug. 27vs. Salt Fork; 7 p.m., Aug. 27vs. Hoopeston; 7 p.m., Aug. 27vs. Oakwood; 7 p.m., Aug. 27vs. Westville; 7 p.m., Aug. 27at Georgetown-Ridge Farm; 1 p.m., Aug. 28
Week 2vs. Georgetown-Ridge Farm; 7 p.m., Sept. 3vs. Bismarck-Henning; 7 p.m., Sept. 3at Oakwood; 7 p.m., Sept. 3at Salt Fork; 7 p.m., Sept. 3at Hoopeston; 7 p.m., Sept. 3vs. Westville; 7 p.m., Sept. 3
Week 3at Oakwood; 7 p.m., Sept. 10at Westville; 7 p.m., Sept. 10vs. Georgetown-Ridge Farm; 7 p.m., Sept. 10vs. Hoopeston; 7 p.m., Sept. 10vs. Salt Fork; 7 p.m., Sept. 10at Bismarck-Henning; 1 p.m., Sept. 11
Week 4vs. Westville; 7 p.m., Sept. 17vs. Oakwood; 7 p.m., Sept. 17at Salt Fork; 7 p.m., Sept. 17at Bismarck-Henning; 7 p.m., Sept. 17at Georgetown-Ridge Farm; 7 p.m., Sept. 17vs. Hoopeston; 7 p.m., Sept. 17
Week 5at Watseka; 7 p.m., Sept. 24at Momence; 7 p.m., Sept. 24at Seneca; 7 p.m., Sept. 24vs. Dwight; 7 p.m., Sept. 24vs. Iroquois West; 7 p.m., Sept. 24vs. Clifton Central; 7 p.m., Sept. 24
Week 6vs. Dwight; 7 p.m., Oct. 1at Clifton Central; 7 p.m., Oct. 1vs. Momence; 7 p.m., Oct. 1at Iroquois West 7 p.m., Oct. 1at Watseka; 7 p.m., Oct. 1vs. Seneca; 7 p.m., Oct. 1
Week 7at Iroquois West; 7 p.m., Oct. 8vs. Watseka; 7 p.m., Oct. 8vs. Clifton Central; 7 p.m., Oct. 8vs. Seneca; 7 p.m., Oct. 8at Momence; 7 p.m., Oct. 8at Dwight; 7 p.m., Oct. 8
Week 8at Seneca: 7 p.m., Oct. 15at Iroquois West; 7 p.m., Oct. 15vs. Dwight; 7 p.m., Oct. 15vs. Watseka; 7 p.m., Oct. 15vs. Clifton Central: 7 p.m., Oct. 15at Momence; 7 p.m., Oct. 15
Week 9vs. Momence; 7 p.m., Oct. 22vs. Seneca; 7 p.m., Oct. 22at Watseka; 7 p.m., Oct. 22at Clifton Central; 7 p.m., Oct. 22at Dwight; 7 p.m., Oct. 22vs. Iroquois West; 7 p.m., Oct. 22

FIVE CAN’T-MISS MATCHUPS

Week 5 — Clifton Central at Watseka: The teams traded punches this spring before the Comets scored in the final seconds to wrap up the final Sangamon Valley Conference title. Despite each team losing key players to graduation, expect another back-and-forth battle again this season.

Week 5 — Iroquois West at Seneca: In the final game this past spring, the Fighting Irish pulled out the victory with just over a minute to play. The Warriors will be on the road, but still looking to return the favor.

Week 7 — Seneca at Momence: The two teams played even through regulation and a pair of overtimes before Momence grabbed the road victory. It may be another down to the wire contest again this season.

Week 8 — Clifton Central at Seneca: Last spring’s contest saw the pass-happy Comets hold an eye-popping 33-30 lead at halftime over the run-first Fighting Irish before pulling away in the second half. In a game of contrasts, this could be another crazy night on the gridiron.

Week 9 — Momence at Clifton Central: In what may be the game to decide the league title, the Comets will have the home-field advantage.

TeamRecord
Clifton Central8-1
Momence6-3
Seneca6-3
Iroquois West5-4
Watseka2-7
Dwight1-8
Brian Hoxsey

Brian Hoxsey

I worked for 25 years as a CNC operator and in 2005 answered an ad in The Times for a freelance sports writer position. I became a full-time sports writer/columnist for The Times in February of 2016. I enjoy researching high school athletics history, and in my spare time like to do the same, but also play video games and watch Twitch.