Analysis | Friday Night Drive

2022 season preview: Scouting the Western Big 6

Sterling's Antonio Tablante turns the corner for yards Friday, Oct. 01, 2021, against Quincy.
EAST MOLINE UNITED TOWNSHIP

2021 record: 4-5

Coach: Nick Welch

Worth noting: The Panthers just missed the playoffs last year, mixing some explosive plays with a young offensive line that “got bullied a little bit,” according to Welch. He hopes to be more physical up front and also likes the speed and tenacity of his defense. … Quarterback Matthew Kelly is the straw that stirs the drink for UT. He returns after rushing for 256 yards and throwing for 1,158 yards and 12 TDs. Welch expects three quality running backs to take some of the pressure off of his QB, while he believes the receiving corps can provide some explosive plays. … Johnny Manso is the top returning running back, rushing for 308 yards and five touchdowns last year. Oscar Perez leads the receivers after catching 10 passes for 231 yards and three scores a year ago. … The Panthers were outscored by a mere seven points last season (228-221), but lost five of their final six games after a 3-0 start. They play three of their first four games on the road this fall. … “We expect to be competitive and compete for a conference championship,” Welch said. “It is our objective to end our 21-year playoff drought. Our players know the challenges of the Western Big 6 and a quality nonconference schedule, but if we do the right things … we feel like we can accomplish our team goals.”

GALESBURG

2021 record: 4-5

Coach: Derek Blackwell

Worth noting: The Silver Streaks lost dynamic twin duo Alex and Dre Egipciaco to graduation; they’re both now playing at Monmouth College. Alex led the Streaks in rushing (89-599, 3 TDs), and Dre was the top receiver (24-379, 4 TDs). … Cameron Aguirre (108 rushes, 541 yards, 8 TDs) and Amari Richardson (31-220, 4 TDs) look to take over the load in the ground game, while QB Tristan Legate returns after throwing for 962 yards, 11 TDs and 10 INTs in 2021. … Mikey Eiker is the leading receiver back this season, after he caught 10 passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns last year. … Galesburg went 4-3 in conference games last year, but lost to Dunlap in the first two weeks to finish 4-5. That opening loss to Dunlap was by a 7-6 score. ... The defense only allowed 149 points last year. … Three of the Streaks’ first five games are at home, with Week 1 against Dunlap again. Galesburg hasn’t made the playoffs since 2016.

GENESEO

2021 record: 3-6

Coach: Larry Johnsen Jr.

Worth noting: The Maple Leafs have missed the playoffs three consecutive seasons; prior to that, they missed the postseason only three times total since the playoffs began in 1974. They haven’t had a winning record since 2016. … Geneseo returns almost every skill-position player from a year ago, led by Jaden Weinzierl (8 rushes, 439 yards, 6 TDs; 29 catches, 441 yards, 5 TDs), Josh Steines (86-329, 5 TDs), William Taylor (26 catches, 219 yards) and Calvin Pettit (9 catches, 177 yards, TD). … In the first year of running the spread offense, quarterback A.J. Weller threw for 1,105 yards and eight touchdowns as a sophomore; he also ran for 248 yards and two scores. The passing numbers were eye-popping at a school that has run the wing-T since the legendary Bob Reade took over in 1962. Reade won three straight 3A state titles from 1976-78 before leading Augustana College to four straight Division III national championships from 1983-86. … The Leafs outscored opponents 221-187 last season despite the 3-6 record. They play four of their first six games on the road this season.

MOLINE

2021 record: Mike Morrissey

Coach: 9-2

Worth noting: The Maroons won the conference title last season, the first time any team besides Sterling had won it since the Golden Warriors joined in 2019. Moline outscored opponents 424-157 on the season. … Leading rusher Riley Fuller returns after running for 1,188 yards and nine touchdowns last fall. Pablo Perez (60-322, 5 TDs) and Mason Woods (50-395, TD) will likely help carry the load. … Moline lost quarterback Alec Ponder (1,664 passing yards, 18 TDs, 14 INTs) to graduation. Last year’s backup, A.J. Jones, was 2 for 3 for 36 yards as a sophomore. … Four of the top five receivers from last year’s squad are also gone, including group leader Matthew Bailey (35 catches, 779 yards, 10 TDs). Grant Sibley caught 15 passes for 209 yards and a score last year as a junior. … The Maroons play four of their first six games at home this season.

QUINCY

2021 record: 4-5

Coach: Rick Little

Worth noting: The Blue Devils will likely rely heavily on dual-threat quarterback Adon Byquist. He was second on the team in rushing last year (438 yards, 8 TDs) as a sophomore, and threw for 1,208 yards and 13 touchdowns with seven interceptions. … Brian Douglas ran for 264 yards and three TDs last season as a junior, while Greg Quince (33 catches, 573 yards, 3 TDs) and Jack Mettemeyer (14-2225, 7 TDs) return as the top wideouts. … Quincy was outscored 283-254 last season, giving up 35 or more points in five of its nine games. … The Blue Devils open the season by visiting crosstown rival Quincy Notre Dame, then alternate home and away games through the first six weeks.

ROCK ISLAND

2021 record: 6-4

Coach: Ben Hammer

Worth noting: The Rocks outscored opponents 300-223 last year in the regular season, leading to a third-place conference finish. Their only two league losses came to Moline in Week 4 (63-0) and Sterling in Week 7 (56-35); those were the only two games they allowed more than 30 points in the regular season. The finale was a 94-72 loss to Springfield in the first round of the 6A playoffs. … Quonterrion Brooks ran for 978 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, and also caught six passes for 125 yards and a touchdown. … Rock Island must replace starting QB Eli Reese (117 for 187 passing, 1,610 yards, 20 TDs, 9 INTs). Wideouts Marieon Anderson (43-671, 10 TDs) and Kai Rios (37-418, 5 TDs) also graduated. … The Rocks play three straight home games after starting the season with a road game in Pekin.

ROCK ISLAND ALLEMAN

2021 record: 0-9

Coach: Fritz Dieudonne

Worth noting: The Pioneers scored 14 points all season and suffered seven shutout losses. They gave up at least 48 points in every game (489 total), and allowed an average of 54.3 points per game. … Alleman brings back three of its top five running backs in Andrew Torres (134 rushes, 327 yards in 2021), Lincoln Dorsey (32-195, TD) and Jake Casel (23-23), as well as quarterback Quentin Fonseca (22 for 75, 130 yards TD, 3 INTs), who are all seniors this fall. Torres is the top returning receiver with six catches last year, as the Pioneers lost two of their top three wideouts. … Alleman opens on the road against Chicago Academy in a Saturday afternoon game Week 1.

STERLING

2021 record: 7-3

Coach: Jonathan Schlemmer

Worth noting: After injuries hit the Golden Warriors hard at running back, quarterback and wide receiver last season, they’ll bring back the league’s leading regular-season rusher a year ago in Antonio Tablante, who ran for 1,092 yards and 14 TDs. He has an offer from Western Illinois. … AJ Kested, who ran for 268 yards and four scores a year ago, was also a force in the Sterling defensive backfield. … Cale Ledergerber stepped up as a sophomore and ran for 291 yards and a TD, and will likely look to increase his workload this fall. … Sterling lost Drew Kested (455 rush yards, 639 pass yards, 11 total TDs) from its QB rotation from a year ago, but return Garrett Polson (113 pass yards, 2 TDs, 3 INTs), and also Kael Ryan, who missed last fall after tearing his right ACL late in the spring season. … Tommy Tate (20 catches, 186 yards in 2021) will lead the way for an inexperienced receiver corps, after all-conference wideout Carter Ryan (25 catches, 363 yards, 4 TDs) graduated last spring. … The Warriors outscored opponents 296-172 last season, making the playoffs for the seventh straight season, and the 18th time in the last 19 years; they finished 5-4 the only time they missed the postseason in that stretch. … Sterling starts the season at home against Lake Villa Lakes, then plays three straight road games at Wheaton St. Francis, Galesburg and Alleman.

FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH

Moline's Riley Fuller (4) runs up the middle during Class 7A second-round game between Moline at Willowbrook on Nov. 5, 2021.
  • Antonio Tablante, Sterling, sr., RB – After leading the league in the regular season and finishing with 1,065 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground last year, Tablante received a few scholarship offers over the summer, including from FCS Western Illinois University.
  • Matthew Kelly, United Township, jr., QB – He threw for 1,158 yards and 12 touchdowns, and also had 256 rushing yards as a sophomore a season ago. He has a solid corps of running backs and receivers around him this fall.
  • Riley Fuller, Moline, sr., RB – He nearly ran for 1,000 yards in the regular season, then topped the mark with during the two playoff games before finishing with 1,188 yards and nine touchdowns.
  • A.J. Weller, Geneseo, jr., QB – In the first season of the spread offense for the Maple Leafs, he acquitted himself well as a sophomore by throwing for 1,105 yards and eight touchdowns; he also ran for 248 yards and two more scores. With Geneseo bringing back almost all of their skill players form a year ago, Weller could put up even bigger numbers this fall.
  • Adon Byquist, Quincy, jr., QB – A true dual threat, he threw for 1,208 yards, ran for 438 more, and scored 21 total touchdowns as a sophomore in 2021. The Blue Devils bring back three of their top four receivers this fall.

SCHEDULES

AllemanGalesburgGeneseoMoline
Week 1@ Chicago Academy; 3 p.m., Aug. 27@ Dunlap; 7:30 p.m., Aug. 26vs. Noble/Comer; 7 p.m., Aug. 26vs. St. Laurence; 7 p.m., Aug. 26
Week 2vs. Quincy Notre Dame; 7 p.m., Sept. 2vs. Thornton; 7 p.m., Sept. 2@ Grayslake Central; 7 p.m., Sept. 2@ Benet; 7 p.m., Sept. 2
Week 3@ Rock Island; 7 p.m., Sept. 9vs. Sterling; 7 p.m., Sept. 9@ United Township; 7 p.m., Sept. 9vs. Quincy; 7 p.m., Sept. 9
Week 4vs. Sterling; 7 p.m., Sept. 16@ Geneseo; 7 p.m., Sept. 16vs. Galesburg; 7 p.m., Sept. 16@ Rock Island; 7 p.m., Sept. 16
Week 5@ Moline; 7 p.m., Sept. 23vs. Quincy; 7 p.m., Sept. 23@ Sterling; 7 p.m., Sept. 23vs. Alleman; 7 p.m., Sept. 23
Week 6vs. Geneseo; 7 p.m., Sept. 30@ Rock Island; 7 p.m., Sept. 30@ Alleman; 7 p.m., Sept. 30vs. United Township; 7 p.m., Sept. 30
Week 7@ United Township; 7 p.m., Oct. 7vs. Moline; 7 p.m., Oct. 7vs. Quincy; 7 p.m., Oct. 7@ Galesburg; 7 p.m., Oct. 7
Week 8vs. Quincy; 7 p.m., Oct. 15@ United Township; 7 p.m., Oct. 14@ Rock Island; 7 p.m., Oct. 14vs. Sterling; 7 p.m., Oct. 14
Week 9@ Galesburg; 7 p.m, Oct. 21vs. Alleman; 7 p.m., Oct. 21vs. Moline; 7 p.m., Oct. 21@ Geneseo; 7 p.m., Oct. 21
QuincyRock IslandSterlingUnited Township
Week 1@ Quincy Notre Dame; 7 p.m., Aug. 26@ Pekin; 7:30 p.m., Aug. 26vs. Lakes; 7 p.m., Aug. 26@ LaSalle-Peru; 7 p.m., Aug. 26
Week 2vs. Alton; 7 p.m., Sept. 2vs. Dunlap; 7 p.m., Sept. 2@ Wheaton St. Francis; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 2OPEN
Week 3@ Moline; 7 p.m., Sept. 9vs. Alleman; 7 p.m., Sept. 9@ Galesburg; 7 p.m., Sept. 9vs. Geneseo, 7 p.m., Sept. 9
Week 4vs. United Township; 7 p.m., Sept. 16vs. Moline; 7 p.m., Sept. 16@ Alleman; 7 p.m., Sept. 16@ Quincy; 7 p.m., Sept. 16
Week 5@ Galesburg; 7 p.m., Sept. 23@ United Township; 7 p.m., Sept. 23vs. Geneseo; 7 p.m., Sept. 23vs. Rock Island; 7 p.m., Sept. 23
Week 6vs. Sterling; 7 p.m., Sept. 30vs. Galesburg; 7 p.m., Sept. 30@ Quincy; 7 p.m., Sept. 30@ Moline; 7 p.m., Sept. 30
Week 7@ Geneseo, 7 p.m., Oct. 7@ Sterling; 7 p.m., Oct. 7vs. Rock Island; 7 p.m., Oct. 7vs. Alleman, 7 p.m., Oct. 7
Week 8@ Alleman; 7 p.m., Oct. 15vs. Geneseo; 7 p.m., Oct. 14@ Moline; 7 p.m., Oct. 14vs. Galesburg, 7 p.m., Oct. 14
Week 9vs. Rock Island; 7 p.m., Oct. 21@ Quincy; 7 p.m., Oct. 21vs. United Township; 7 p.m., Oct. 21@ Sterling; 7 p.m., Oct. 21

FIVE CAN’T MISS MATCHUPS

Week 1 - Galesburg at Dunlap: The Silver Streaks are looking for a little revenge after suffering a 7-6 loss at home to Dunlap in the opener last year – a loss that effectively kept Galesburg out of the playoffs after it finished 4-5.

Week 4 - Moline at Rock Island: These two longtime rivals both finished in the top three in the league last year, and are looking for a repeat. This game pits two teams with strong returning running backs (Moline’s Riley Fuller and Rock Island’s Quonterrion Brooks) that are looking to replace prolific passing quarterbacks (Moline’s Alec Ponder and Rock Island’s Eli Reese).

Week 4 - United Township at Quincy: Two dual-threat QBs take center stage in this one, a battle between UT’s Matthew Kelly and Quincy’s Adon Byquist. Both are central to their teams’ chances of success this season, and both showed proficiency in their offenses as sophomores last season.

Week 5 - Geneseo at Sterling: The Golden Warriors and Maple Leafs have been rivals since the days of the old NCIC, though Sterling has had the better of the matchups the last several seasons. Geneseo hasn’t won in the rivalry since 2014, when it finished 13-1 with a loss to Montini in the 5A semifinals. The Warriors have outscored the Leafs 72-0 in the last two meetings, and haven’t allowed more than one touchdown in a game since 2015.

Week 8 - Sterling at Moline: A battle of the top two finishers in the conference last season, and the only two who have won a league title since 2019. This game features the only two 1,000-yard rushers in the WB6 last season in Sterling’s Antonio Tablante and Moline’s Riley Fuller.

STEVE SOUCIE’S PREDICTED FINISH

TeamRecord
Sterling8-1
Rock Island8-1
Moline6-3
Galesburg6-3
Geneseo3-6
East Moline United2-6
Quincy2-7
Rock Island Alleman1-8