Week 1 previews: Streator, Seneca, FCW, Sandwich, Marquette all open season at home

Ottawa (0-0) at Sandwich (0-0)

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Last matchup: Sandwich 44, Ottawa 25 (2019)

About the Pirates: Ottawa improved by leaps and bounds over the course of the shortened spring season, with the play of quarterback Braiden Miller a key cause. Miller returns to lead a balanced run/pass attack, albeit with an almost entirely new receiving corps. Also returning are expectations of victories for the Pirates, coming in on a 14-game losing streak. Ryder Miller at linebacker is a standout playmaker, as are Conner Price and Levi Sheehan in the secondary. If the Pirates can carry over momentum from the spring, they could be dangerous.

About the Indians: Sandwich welcomes back nine starters, including the young man expected to be the workhorse of its wing-T offense, All-Interstate 8 fullback Seven Tornga. Christian Sommers, Cainan Haick and Doug Taxis also should see carries in the Indians’ run-first offense. Varsity numbers are a concern, with only 25 upperclassmen in the program this fall. This annual meeting of I-8 rivals now is considered a crossover game in the new Kishwaukee River/Interstate 8 football-only merger.

Friday Night Drive pick: Ottawa

– J.T. Pedelty

East Peoria (0-0) at Streator (0-0)

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Last matchup: Streator 21, East Peoria 14 (2019)

About the Raiders: As has been the case throughout much of this season-opening rivalry in recent years, East Peoria and Streator football seem to have a lot in common. Like Streator’s Kyle Tutt, Raiders coach Dustin Jefferson is in his second season and first full offseason trying to turn around a program that is seeing a slight rise in numbers and a big rise in enthusiasm. Both come off winless spring seasons, although unlike Streator, the Raiders lost two games to a COVID-19 quarantine. QB/DB Damien Brown, speedy RB/DB Gabriel Ziegler-Harris and TE/LB Cole Hagedorn are a few Raiders to watch.

About the Bulldogs: There is a lot of excitement about what this fall’s Bulldogs have at the talent positions, with experienced weapons such as RB/WR Cade Stevens, WR Tyler Luckey, RB Darryl Gullens, WR Aneefy Ford and sophomore starting QB Christian Benning. There are also a lot of question marks about Streator’s line play, although Walker McClellan, Anthony Dominic and Sabby Nieto are a good core from which to build. Blocking and tackling are Tutt’s stated two top priorities after a winless spring.

FND pick: Streator

– J.T. Pedelty

Westville (0-0) at Seneca (0-0)

When: 7 p.m. Friday

About the Tigers: Westville, under IHSFCA Hall of Fame coach Guy Goodlove, reached its zenith of the past decade with a Class 2A quarterfinals appearance in 2017, a nadir with a winless 2018, and have since been climbing back, finishing a game under .500 in 2019 and spring 2021. This fall’s team lost only four of last season’s players to graduation and notably brings back Bryce Burnett, a Champaign News-Gazette All-Area Special Mmention 30 lineman on both sides of the ball.

About the Fighting Irish: Seneca comes in off a 2-3 spring with a new head coach, Terry Maxwell. Don’t expect too much to change, however, as Maxwell has said he intends to keep the power-T offense – again run by QB Nathan Grant, now a sophomore – powered by the legs of RBs Asher Hamby, Collin Wright and Braden Ellis. This is a crossover game in Seneca’s new conference home, the North Division of the Vermilion Valley Football Alliance.

FND pick: Westville

– J.T. Pedelty

Fieldcrest (0-0) at Aurora Christian (0-0)

When: 7 p.m. Friday

About the Knights: Fieldcrest found its Week 1 opponent less than a week before the start of the season. The Knights return only one starter from its 4-0 spring team, linebacker Ethan Stoeger. He’ll also play fullback. Sophomores Brady Ruestman and Koltin Kearfott along with freshman Jackson Hakes are in the mix at quarterback. Senior Logan Halley, who went to grade school at Fieldcrest but is a transfer back from Normal Community, along with freshman Eddie Lorton will see time in the backfield. Juniors Carter Stimpert, Aiden Harsted, Coltin Perry and sophomore Aydin Stimpert are in the mix on both sides of the line.

About the Eagles: Aurora Christian, which went 2-3 in the spring, is experienced on the offensive and defensive lines with Nathan Henry, Maxx Garcia, Grant Henderson and Braden Hunter all back. Safety Cam Colquitt, running back Cam Ajazi, and receiver/defensive backs Trey Beebe and Owen Hampton also provide experience. QB Max Bray, WR Tyron Ferguson, QB Conner Kendall and WR/LB Than Lindoo are expected to make an impact.

FND pick: Aurora Christian

– Kevin Chlum

West Central (0-0) at FCW (0-0)

When: 7 p.m. Friday (in Flanagan)

Last matchup: n/a

About the Heat: West Central, located in Biggsville, announced in May of 2020 it would be moving to the 8-man game after a 4-5 season playing 11-man football in 2019. The Heat debuted in the I8FA in the spring — and what a debut! — going a perfect 5-0, including a victory over defending state champion Polo. A physical, run-oriented team, West Central is ranked No. 2 in the preseason Cover8_IL poll and a tough opening-week measuring stick.

About the Falcons: Flanagan-Cornell/Woodland didn’t have a Week 1 opponent until last week. The Falcons will be kicking off their season with an opportunity to test their renewed dedication to being a physical football team against a contender for the 8-man state championship that also relies upon its strength, physicality and grit. FCW brings back seven opening-day starters on both offense and defense, led by the likes of QB Dallas Hamilton, RB/LBs Chris Stasko, Will Weber and JD Ruddy, WR/DB Sam Jones and dual TE/DEs Ethan Schumm and Phoenix Cooper.

FND pick: West Central

— J.T. Pedelty

Dakota (0-0) at Marquette (0-0)

When: 1 p.m. Saturday

About the Indians: Dakota managed to get in only two games in the spring because of COVID-19 quarantines. Both were losses, 28-7 to East Dubuque and 44-0 to the Durand-Pecatonica co-op. The Indians were 4-5 in the last full season in 2019 and return a good deal of players from the spring. That includes QB Kaidyn Niedermeier and three speedy track stars – Cam Foesch, Adrian Arellano and Cam Foesch – the Crusaders are going to have to keep contained.

About the Crusaders: After rallying for a 4-2 record in the COVID-caused spring season despite being in a reloading year, the Crusaders bring back a handful of the young men responsible for building that winning record – including dual-threat QB Alex Graham as well as OL/DL twin brothers Brady and Beau Ewers. The Crusaders, playing as an independent with no home conference, should be able to throw the ball a bit with Graham returning, but likely will still prefer to pound it with their in-your-face wing-T.

FND pick: Marquette

– J.T. Pedelty

J.T. Pedelty

J.T. Pedelty

J.T. is a graduate of Streator High School, Illinois Valley Community College and Southern Illinois University-Carbondale who is some 22 years into an award-winning sports journalism career.