Analysis | Friday Night Drive

2022 season preview: Scouting the Heart of Illinois Conference Large Division

Deer Creek-Mackinaw

2021 record: 7-4

Coach: Cody Myers

Worth noting: The Chiefs return their top two rushers from a team that advanced to the second round of the Class 2A playoffs last fall in junior Brent Denniston (1,147 yards, 16 touchdowns) and senior Lucas Blumeyer (639 yards, 7 TDs; 220 receiving yards). The duo will run behind a line anchored by returning starters Connor Huff and Adam Mallicoat. Leading the defense are returning starters Blumeyer (66 tackles last season) at linebacker, linebacker Dane Lowery (49 tackles) and safety Tyce Albritton (65 tackles). Newcomers expected to make an impact are juniors Carson Cassaday at quarterback and defensive line and Dalton Burr in the secondary. “We have a very disciplined group right now,” Myers said. “We return six sophomore starters from a second round season in 2A last year. We lost a few really good players, but that has created great opportunities for some of our returning players to step up.” Dee-Mack will be tested early against 2021 semifinalists Ridgeview-Lexington and Tri-Valley the first two weeks.

El Paso-Gridley

2021 record: 5-5

Coach: Tanner Benedict

Worth noting: Benedict took over at his alma mater last fall and led the Titans to a playoff berth after they had gone 5-17 in the three previous seasons. Benedict has some solid pieces to build around in his second season in junior quarterback/defensive back Kamren Schumacher and senior linebacker Cody Langland. Schumacher was a second-team all-conference pick last season after throwing for 791 yards and seven touchdowns and running for 727 yards and nine scores, while Langland also was second-team all-conference.

Eureka

2021 record: 6-4

Coach: Jason Bachman

Worth noting: The Hornets are loaded with talent back from a squad that qualified for the Class 3A postseason last year with 18-20 players back who saw significant playing time. “Up and down the roster, we have guys who have experience, which is refreshing because last year we had no one who had experience at the varsity level,” Bachman said. “It’s been a good summer because things progress so much quicker when they’ve been there, done that before.” Offensively, Eureka returns all-conference players in quarterback Jacob Morin (142-237, 1,645 yards, 15 touchdowns, 274 rushing yards, 10 TDs), running back Mason Boles (935 yards, 7 TDs), receivers Justis Bachman (485 yards, 5 TDs) and Carson Gold and lineman Ben Jablonski. Dakota Wiegand, an honorable mention all-state pick last year who had 83 tackles, 17 tackles for loss and a program record 12 sacks, is back to lead the defense. Also back are all-conference players Drew Dingledine at defensive back, Jon McDonald at linebacker and Rylan Bachman, who is moving to safety from linebacker. With top-notch team speed and athleticism along with the experience, the Hornets are looking for a playoff run. “We have a lot of work to do between now and then to be that type of team, but we have potential,” Jason Bachman said.

Fieldcrest

2021 record: 0-9

Coach: Nick Meyer

Worth noting: Meyer returns to his alma mater in hopes of turning things around after the Knights went winless last fall. Meyer has the benefit of a roster that gained plenty of varsity experience last season. Junior Koltin Kearfott returns after throwing for 1,037 yards and six touchdowns to five interceptions in six games last year, while sophomore Eddie Lorton gain experience at QB, running back and receiver. Also back are seniors Landon Modro (450 receiving yards, 2 TDs) at receiver, Coltin Perry and Carter Stimpert on the offensive and defensive lines and junior Jozia Johnson at receiver/defensive back. Juniors Brady Ruestman (QB/DB) and Aydin Stimpert (OL/DL) and sophomore Jackson Hakes (TE/LB) are expected to play larger roles this season. “(Our strengths are) playing experience, attitude and work ethic,” Meyer said. Meyer said the Knights’ goals are to build confidence and improve each week.

Tremont

2021 record: 8-3

Coach: Zach Zehr

Worth noting: The Turks took a hit from graduation after reaching the second round of the Class 3A playoffs last season. Tremont lost four All-HOIC players — three of them two-way selections — including Illinois High School Football Coaches Association All-State lineman John Rathbun, quarterback/defensive back Tate Martin and running back Shemar Williams, who ran for 1,400 yards and 23 touchdowns last season. The Turks do return running back Ty Fuller, who rushed for 932 yards and eight touchdowns as a sophomore while averaging 8.8 yards per carry.

Tri-Valley

2021 record: 12-1

Coach: Josh Roop

Worth noting: The Vikings lost some key players from 2021′s HOIC Large Division champion and Class 2A semifinal team, including Illinois High School Football Coaches Association 2A All-State quarterback Andrew Petrilli (1,473 yards, 20 touchdowns passing; 1,507 yards, 23 TDs rushing) and honorable mention all-state linebacker Nathan Simon. However, Tri-Valley returns a strong core to build around. First-team all-conference running back Blake Regenold returns after rushing for 1,003 yards and 13 touchdowns last fall. He’ll run behind a line anchored by First-Team All-HOIC center Jacob Bischoff and returnees T.J. Klein and Brennan Thoele. Receiver Grant Fatima (423 yards and 8 TDs) also is back. The Vikings averaged 41 points per game last fall and piled up nearly 5,000 offensive yards. Defensively, Fatima returns after intercepting four passes and earning unanimous All-HOIC honors last season, while Klein was a second-team all-conference pick on the defensive line.

FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH

  • Brent Denniston, Deer Creek-Mackinaw, Jr., RB: Eureka coach Jason Bachman said Denniston “is a ton to bring down and he’s super athletic.” Denniston rushed for 1,147 yards and 16 touchdowns as a sophomore to help the Chiefs to the second round of the playoffs.
  • Grant Fatima, Tri-Valley, Sr., DB/WR: Fatima was a unanimous all-conference pick for the Class 2A semifinalists last season as he intercepted four passes. Fatima contributed offensively as well with 423 yards and eight touchdowns receiving.
  • Ty Fuller, Tremont, Jr., RB: With first-team all-HOIC back Shemar Williams (1,400 yards, 23 touchdowns in 2021) graduated, Fuller could have an even larger role after running for 932 yards on 106 carries — an average of 8.8 yards per attempt — while rushing for eight TDs.
  • Kamren Schumacher, El Paso-Gridley, Jr., QB/DB: Schumacher was a dual threat as he helped the Titans to a 5-5 record and a playoff berth as he racked up more than 1,400 offensive yards. He threw for 791 yards and seven touchdowns and ran for 727 yards and nine scores.
  • Dakota Wiegand, Eureka, Sr., OL/DL: Wiegand is a force who’s a consistent presence in opposing backfields. He recorded 17 tackles for loss and a program-record 12 sacks last season while leading the team with 83 tackles. He was Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Class 3A Honorable Mention All State last year.

SCHEDULES

Deer Creek-MackinawEl Paso-GridleyEurekaFieldcrestTremontTri-Valley
Week 1vs. Ridgeview; 7 p.m., Aug. 26vs. Macon Meridian; 7 p.m., Aug. 26vs. Canton; 7 p.m., Aug. 26vs. Gibson City-Melvin Sibley; 7 p.m., Aug. 26at Sangamon Valley; 7 p.m., Aug. 26at Arthur; 7 p.m., Aug. 26
Week 2vs. Tri-Valley; 7 p.m., Sept. 2at Fieldcrest; 7 p.m., Sept. 2at Tremont; 7 p.m., Sept. 2vs. El Paso-Gridley; 7 p.m., Sept. 2vs. Eureka; 7 p.m., Sept. 2at Deer Creek-Mackinaw; 7 p.m., Sept. 2
Week 3at Ottawa Marquette; 7 p.m., Sept. 9vs. Gibson City-Melvin Sibley; 7 p.m., Sept. 9vs. Heyworth; 7 p.m., Sept. 9OPENat LeRoy; 7 p.m., Sept. 9vs. Ridgeview; 7 p.m., Sept.9
Week 4at El Paso-Gridley; 7 p.m., Sept. 16vs. Deer Creek-Mackinaw; 7 p.m., Sept. 16vs. Fieldcrest; 7 p.m., Sept. 16at Eureka; 7 p.m., Sept. 16at Tri-Valley; 7 p.m., Sept. 16vs. Tremont; 7 p.m, Sept. 16
Week 5OPENat Ridgeview; 7 p.m., Sept. 23at Gibson City-Melvin Sibley; 7 p.m., Sept. 23vs. LeRoy; 7 p.m., Sept. 23vs. Madison; 7 p.m., Sept. 23at Heyworth; 7 p.m., Sept 23
Week 6vs. Tremont; 6 p.m., Sept. 30vs. Eureka; 7 p.m., Sept. 30at El Paso-Gridley; 7 p.m., Sept. 30at Tri-Valley; 7 p.m., Sept. 30at Deer Creek-Mackinaw; 6 p.m., Sept. 30vs. Fieldcrest; 7 p.m., Sept. 30
Week 7at LeRoy; 7 p.m., Oct. 7at Heyworth; 7 p.m., Oct. 7vs. Ridgeview; 7 p.m., Oct. 7at Stockton; 2 p.m., Oct. 8OPENat Gibson City-Melvin Sibley; 7 p.m., Oct. 7
Week 8vs. Fieldcrest; 7 p.m., Oct. 14at Tremont; 7 p.m., Oct. 14at Tri-Valley; 7 p.m., Oct. 14at Deer Creek-Mackinaw; 7 p.m., Oct. 14vs. El Paso-Gridley; 7 p.m., Oct. 14vs. Eureka; 7 p.m., Oct. 14
Week 9at Eureka; 7 p.m., Oct. 21vs. Tri-Valley; 7 p.m., Oct. 21vs. Deer Creek-Mackinaw; 7 p.m., Oct. 21vs. Tremont; 7 p.m., Oct. 21at Fieldcrest; 7 p.m., Oct. 21at El Paso-Gridley; 7 p.m., Oct. 21

FIVE CAN’T MISS MATCHUPS

Ridgeview-Lexington at Tri-Valley: This battle of 2021 HOIC Division champions and semifinalists — the Mustangs in 1A and the Vikings in 21 — will be an early test for both teams in Week 3. Until Tri-Valley’s semifinal loss, Ridgeview-Lexington played the Vikings closer than any opponent.

Deer Creek-Mackinaw at El Paso-Gridley: This game in Week 4 could help the winner secure a playoff berth or better postseason seeding. Both qualified for the playoffs last season as the Chiefs went 6-3 while the Titans were 5-4. Last fall, EPG edged Dee-Mack 14-6.

Eureka at El Paso-Gridley: In a season where there seems to be parity in the HOIC Large, this could be a pivotal matchup with playoff and conference implications. Last fall, the Titans topped the Hornets 14-9.

Tremont at Deer Creek-Mackinaw: The Turks will be looking to avenge their 12-0 loss to the Chief last season. The Week 6 matchup is likely to have playoff implications for both teams.

Eureka at Tri-Valley: The Week 8 matchup could decide the HOIC Large title. The Vikings bring back a solid nucleus from last season’s 2A semifinal team, while the Hornets bring back nearly every starter from a playoff team that played Tri-Valley closer than anyone in the HOIC Large.

PREDICTED FINISH

TeamRecord
Tri-Valley9-0
Eureka6-3
El Paso-Gridley6-3
Tremont6-3
Deer Creek-Mackinaw3-6
Fieldcrest2-7