Just over a month and half ago, the Flanagan-Cornell/Woodland Falcons gave up a game-tying South Beloit touchdown and two-point conversion in the final minutes of regulation, but survived overtime against the SoBos to claim a 44-38, Illinois 8-Man Football Association victory.
Both head coaches, South Beloit’s James Morrow and FCW’s Todd Reed, feel their teams have grown and developed a lot since that Sept. 10 meeting on the Illinois-Wisconsin border, but it’s a pretty good bet fans at the Wood Shed four miles south of Streator this Friday night will be in for another good game.
FCW (7-2) hosts the SoBos (5-4) 7 p.m. Friday to open the I8FA playoffs.
“We took care of the ball in a back-and-forth ballgame, and our defense did a great job stopping them and allowing us to win the game,” said Reed, his team the No. 5 seed in the 16-team I8FA hosting the 12th-seeded SoBos. “They’re a physical team. It was a battle.”
“Last time we played them,” Morrow said, “we had five turnovers and Flanagan had zero. I think that’s a huge consideration for us going into this next matchup. We’ve got to take care of the football, and we’ve got to create turnovers on our part defensively.
“It’s a real opportunity for us to show our growth as far as how much better we’ve gotten. ... There are a lot of things we’ve cleaned up, such as the quarterbacks making the right reads, our offensive line communication.
“We’ve got a lot better after that narrow loss to Flanagan.”
While both teams have tons of explosiveness and power at the talent positions, what the Falcons and SoBos do is built upon the play of their powerful lines – for FCW, linemen Sam Jones, Jase Torrez, Mikey Gamble, Joey Jones and Ethan Schumm; and for South Beloit a unit led by 6-5, 315-pound center/nose tackle Bradley Knepper. A walking matchup nightmare, Knepper returns this week after missing South Beloit’s Week 9 blowout loss to 8-1 Milledgeville.
As for the skill positions and playbooks, both teams prefer to run behind those lines but are willing and able to pass.
FCW features QB Dallas Hamilton (58.2% completion rate, 706 yards, 8 TDs, 1 INT passing; 310 yards, 11 TDs rushing), receiver Sam Jones (19 receptions, 336 yards, 3 TDs) and a stable of RBs including J.D. Ruddy (775 yards, 11 TDs), Jesse Simpson (471 yards, 4 TDs), Chris Stasko (381 yards, 7 TDs) and William Weber (138 yards, 1 TD).
“I think we match up physically,” Morrow said of defending the Falcons offense. “It’s just a matter of if we play smart – stay in position, defend the perimeter, limit the big plays by not putting ourselves out of position.”
“We’re going with what we’ve been good at,” Reed said of his offense. “If [South Beloit] takes something away, we’re fortunate we can go with a different attack and a different formation with our key weapons.”
The Sobos implement a veer option offense and alternate quarterback snaps between Tanner Joiner (623 yards, 9 TDs rushing; 33-45 for 282 yards and 4 TDs passing) and Kaden Mhyers (321 yards, 4 TDs rushing; 19-22 for 146 yards and 4TDs passing), with Jared Schober also seeing limited time behind center. Rence Kotska (366 yards, 3 TDs) is the secondary running back, and Dez Hampton (14 receptions for 172 yards and 6 TDs) is the top receiver, but it is 220-pound RB Fernando Balderas (1,213 yards, 16 TDs rushing) who is the focal point of the attack.
“Their quarterbacks are option quarterbacks,” Reed said. “Both are pretty good running with the ball and can put it in the air too. And their best running back [Balderas], the kid’s solid. He’s a hard runner. We’ve got to hit him low to bring him down.”
“Fern draws a lot of attention, and that opens up a lot of things for us,” Morrow said.
Reed is hoping for a big crowd at the Wood Shed.
“They’re fun to watch, a great group of kids,” he said. “It’s hard not to root for them.”
South Beloit (5-4) at Flanagan-Cornell/Woodland (7-2)
When: 7 p.m. Friday at Woodland, rural Streator
Last meeting: FCW 44, South Beloit 38 (Week 3, 2021)
Friday Night Drive pick: FCW