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The Times Week 9 football previews: Marquette, Ottawa set to close regular season on home fields

Here is a look at the weekend ahead across The Times area:

Seneca (3-5, 2-2) at Dwight (1-7, 1-3)

Game time: 7 p.m. Friday

Last meeting: Seneca 28, Dwight 6 (2019)

About the Fighting Irish: Seneca has played a number of new, faraway foes this season, but ends the regular campaign with a short trip to an old conference rival. And while it’s a long shot, a playoff berth is not impossible with a win over a Trojans team whose only win has come via forfeit. Whether that long shot comes through or not, head coach Terry Maxwell’s young team has to be encouraged by how far it has come this season, having won three of its last five including last week’s statement, 30-14 win against playoff-bound Clifton Central led by 100-yard rushing performances from Collin Wright (24 for 117) and Brock Moore (10 for 112, 2 TDs), with Nathan Grant adding 44 yards and two touchdowns.

About the Trojans: Dwight has had three games decided by forfeit – taking COVID-19-caused losses in Weeks 2 and 3 and recording its lone victory in Week 7 against Watseka, which canceled the remainder of its season. Of the five the Trojans have played on the field, they’ve really only been in one – Week 4′s 30-22 home loss to Fithian Oakwood – while being outscored a cumulative 190-30 in the other four. That includes last week’s 56-6 loss to playoff-bound Iroquois West, a game in which Dwight was limited to 26 rushing yards. QB Conner Telford is a big-play threat, though, while RB/WR Austin Burkhardt is a weapon in both the ground and air attacks.

Friday Night Drive pick: Seneca

— J.T. Pedelty

Streator (3-5, 1-5) at Coal City (5-3, 4-2)

Game time: 7 p.m. Friday

Last meeting: Coal City 48, Streator 0 (spring 2021)

About the Bulldogs: Streator has had games this season where it has run the ball well or passed the ball well, but only once have the Bulldogs put the two together on the same Friday night. They will have to have that kind of effort, and a little more, if they hope to snap a five-game losing streak and finish the season on a high note by knocking off the playoff-bound Coalers on their home field. The Streator offense is posting 263.4 total yards (114.1 rushing/149.3 passing) a game, while its defense – which is allowing 299.1 (193.3/105.9) an outing – will need to have its best effort of the year. The Bulldogs will be looking for big games from RB Darryl Gullens (85 carries, 496 yards, 7 TDs), RB/WR Aneefy Ford (22-266-2; 25 receptions, 492 yards, 5 TDs), WR Cade Stevens (24 catches, 484 yards, 5 TDs) and QB Christian Benning (65-of-133, 1,194 yards, 11 TDs, 8 INTs).

About the Coalers: Coal City had its four-game winning streak snapped in a 33-9 loss at Reed-Custer last week, and while still projected to make the playoff field with five victories, would like to record a postseason-clinching sixth win and head into Week 10 on a high note. The combined record of the Coalers’ opponents in their three losses this year is 23-1. Coal City standouts Streator will need to keep in check are QB Braden Reilly (37-of-82, 362 yards, 4 TDs, 5 INTs), RB/LB Ashton Harvey (137 carries, 821 yards, 9 TDs; team-leading 88 tackles, 62 solo), RB Carson Headley (29 carries, 209 yards, 2 TDs), RB Chase Adams (21-179-1), WR/DT Nick Seplak (13 catches, 114 yards, TDs; 58 tackles) and WR/DT Brady Best (10 receptions, 66 yards; 56 tackles). Coal City is allowing just 30 yards a game in the air.

FND pick: Coal City

— Brian Hoxsey

Plano (5-3) at Ottawa (2-6)

Game time: 7 p.m. Friday

Last meeting: Plano 20, Ottawa 7 (spring 2021)

About the Reapers: After a 5-1 start (which admittedly included two forfeit wins, over Harvard and archrival Sandwich), Plano has cooled off. The Reapers have dropped their past two in close contests – 21-20 at Marengo in Week 7 and last week’s 28-20 home loss to Rochelle. QB Samuel Sifuentes will throw the ball, but it is RB Ray Jones Jr. who is the centerpiece of the Plano offense, lugging the pigskin 29 times for 171 yards and all three Reapers touchdowns in last Friday’s loss to the Hubs. Jones Jr. has six 100 plus-yard rushing performances and comes into King Field with 897 yards on the season. The Reapers have been playing nothing but close games in recent weeks, with their past four on-the-field contests decided by a combined 16 points.

About the Pirates: Ottawa will close out the season with this Kishwaukee River/Interstate 8 crossover, its first KR/I8 crossover since defeating Sandwich, 42-14, to open the season. Aside from losses to La Salle-Peru and Morris earlier in the season, the Pirates have consistently been able to pile up yards, led by the offensive triumvirate of QB Braiden Miller (99-175, 1,330 yards, nine TDs), RB Javarius Whitfield (825 yards, 11 TDs) and WR Levi Sheehan (40 receptions, 639 yards, 6 TDs). All three will be looking to etch their names into the OHS record book – Miller 28 completions from Ottawa’s career record and 237 yards short of the top single-season performance; Whitfield 175 yards from the 15th 1,000-yard rushing season in OHS history; and Sheehan nine catches and 127 yards shy of the single-season school records. LB Ryder Miller comes in with 74 total tackles – 8 1/2 of those behind the line of scrimmage.

FND pick: Plano

— J.T. Pedelty

Sandwich (0-8, 0-5) at Rochelle (6-2, 4-1)

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Last meeting: Rochelle 42, Sandwich 28 (2019)

About the Indians: Hoping to finish with their first on-the-field win (it had a forfeit win over L-P in 2020) since it beat Ottawa, 44-25, in Week 8 of 2019, coach Kris Cassie’s Sandwich squad is coming off its two best offensive efforts of the season, albeit in losses: a 29-24 loss at Harvard and 43-21 on last Friday’s senior night with Marengo. In that latter game, junior FB Seven Tornga continued his fine season with 29 carries for 190 yards and two scores, while Cainan Haick added a 20-yard TD run. However, the defense gave the visitors 461 total yards on the night. It must do better against the Hubs’ solid ground game and find some air yards or it will be SHS’s first winless season since 1998.

About the Hubs: After a 1-2 start, the Hubs have taken flight, a five-game winning streak including most recently wins over potential playoff teams Marengo, 41-32; Kaneland, 43-21; and last week a 28-20 road victory over Plano. The main reason for that success has been a running game behind three junior RBs, Trey Taft (139 yards, TD vs. Marengo), Cody Stover-Cullum (102-3) and Garrett Gensler (TD). Defensively, the Hubs are led by 6-foot-3, 190-pound senior safety Tanner Lager and junior CB Aiden Rodriguez, but they are vulnerable to the pass, having given up 323 air yards to Marengo QB Joshua Holst in Week 7. However, the ground-and-pound Indians had no passing yards in their loss to Marengo last week.

FND pick: Rochelle

— Charlie Ellerbrock

Fieldcrest (0-8, 0-4) at Tremont (6-2, 2-2)

Game time: 7 p.m. Friday

Last meeting: Fieldcrest 42, Tremont 7 (2019)

About the Knights: The young Fieldcrest squad will have one more opportunity to gain experience for the coming seasons, but will more than likely, as it has in nearly every game this season, have to try to find a way to stop its opponents running game. The Knights, after falling to Dee-Mack last week, 36-0, are averaging just 9.8 points while allowing 45.1 a game. Freshman Eddie Lorton, who previously had started at running back and receiver, has been the signal-caller the past few weeks, while senior captain Ethan Stoeger has been the leading ground gainer.

About the Turks: Tremont – its only two losses this season coming to undefeated and Associated Press Class 2A No. 3 Tri-Valley (35-0) and playoff-bound Dee-Mack (12-0) – picked up its playoff-clinching sixth victory last week with an impressive 27-19 triumph on the road against El Paso-Gridley. The Turks are averaging 30.1 points a game while allowing just 16.1. In last week’s win over the Titans, RB Shemar Williams (6-3, 235) ran the ball 34 times for 285 yards and a pair of scores, while QB Tate Martin ran for a score and threw a 22-yard TD pass to WR David Smith.

FND pick: Tremont

— Brian Hoxsey

Fisher (1-7) at Marquette (7-1)

When: 1 p.m. Saturday

About the Bunnies: Like Marquette, Fisher boasts a young roster and is capable of putting up some points, as it showed in it lone victory in Week 3 at winless Fieldcrest, 51-40. In that one, the Bunnies rolled up 411 total yards, 344 of those on the rush led by George Kirts-Morgan’s 31 carries for 223 yards, and needed every one as the defense gave the Knights 496 yards and seven TDs. Fisher can also move the ball through the air with 6-3 senior QB Blake Terven and a trio of capable senior WRs in Kobe Bishop, Dalton Smith and Brant Liestman. But it has also struggled recently in that area, evidenced by a 48-8 home loss to Tremont and a 27-0 road loss to LeRoy in the last two weeks.

About the Crusaders: With the somewhat surreal 49-6 win in Melrose Park over Christ the King now behind them, the AP’s 1A No. 7-ranked Crusaders’ minds must focus on the task at hand, not the playoffs. The offense, led by versatile RBs Tom Durdan, Jurnee Reed and Julian Alexander and QB Alex Graham, is averaging 414 yards per game, while an improving defense has given up just 26 points and an average of 123 total yards per game the last three weeks. Marquette does have something to play for, as an 8-1 mark would boost the postseason draw more than a 7-2. In a playoff-like Saturday afternoon contest, MA gets that job done. “They’re really impressive,” MA coach Tom Jobst said. “They’re decent-sized, they’re aggressive, and they have some speed. They’re not a team we can take lightly.”

FND pick: Marquette

— Charlie Ellerbrock

FCW (6-2) at Champaign St. Thomas More (5-3)

Game time: 1 p.m. Saturday

Last meeting: St. Thomas More 42, FCW 16 (spring 2021)

About the Falcons: Flanagan-Cornell/Woodland is already assured of an Illinois 8-Man Football Association playoff berth, but will be looking to better its standing on the 16-team, statewide bracket. Despite a schedule against teams which currently hold a 40-24 record (.625 winning percentage), the Falcons have outscored their opponents by an average score of 41.4-24.7 in their seven on-field contests. An offense featuring QB Dallas Hamilton, RBs J.D. Ruddy and Chris Stasko, and TE Sam Jones behind a powerful offensive line will have its work cut out for it, though, against a stingy Sabers defense that has held four of its opponents this fall to one or zero scores.

About the Sabers: After forfeiting their season opener and losing in Week 2 to Orangeville, St. Thomas More rattled off five consecutive victories before Friday’s 30-16 loss to Martinsville in a battle for a share of the top spot in the I8FA’s South standings with West Central. In its seven played games, the Sabers offense has been potent, averaging 46.9 points per contest led by a pair of dangerous, dual-threat athletes – QB Justen Green (58-105 for 1,199 yards and 22 TDs passing; 513 yards and four TDs rushing) and RB Adonai Bumba (716 yards and four TDs rushing; 17 receptions for 405 yards). This will be a key game for St. Thomas More’s hopes of hosting a first-round I8FA playoff game.

FND pick: FCW

— J.T. Pedelty