Marquette (1-1, 0-0) at Elmwood Park (0-2, 0-0)
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Last meeting: first meeting
About the Crusaders: It’s the beginning of a new era, as the Chicagoland Prairie Football League opens play. For Marquette, that means a Week 3 visit to the new conference’s largest school, Elmwood Park (IHSA enrollment 971.5). How the Cru’s brand of smash-mouth, small-school football will stack up to a Class 4A/5A program going through a rough stretch is one of the more intriguing questions the new league brings. If the Crusaders can play more like the team that beat Madison 55-6 in Week 2 than the team that fell 42-0 to Aurora Christian in Week 1, they should be all right. Jacob Smith led Marquette’s wing-T last week with 108 yards and a pair of touchdowns, with three others rushing for better than 60 yards as part of a 376-yard ground attack.
About the Tigers: The nonconference portion of Elmwood Park’s schedule did not go the way the Tigers were hoping, to put it mildly. Following a 63-14 loss to a new-look Reed-Custer team, Elmwood Park suffered a 48-3 defeat at the hands of Christ the King in Week 2. First-year head coach Terrance Terry cited line play as a strength for his team this season. Those lines will get tested all night long by the physical Crusaders. RB/LB Johnny Baratta and WR/LB Michael Fritz are both back after all-conference seasons in the Metro Suburban Blue.
Friday Night Drive pick: Marquette
Ridgeview/Lexington (0-2) at Fieldcrest (1-1)
When: 7 p.m. Friday in Minonk
Last meeting: Fieldcrest 43, Ridgeview/Lexington 0 (2019)
About the Mustangs: Ridgeview/Lexington’s winless mark to this point might be more than a bit deceiving. While it’s true the Mustangs took it on the chin in their season opener at the hands of Heart of Illinois Large powerhouse Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley, 41-13, Week 2′s 39-32 loss to a Rockridge team that played Sterling Newman to a 12-7 loss tells the tale of a Mustangs team that should make a run as we move into the heart of the season. No surprise for a Class 1A state semifinalist from a year ago. Ridgeview/Lexington has shown plenty of big-play ability thus far, including a 74-yard passing touchdown to Lukas Martin and pick-six by Bryce Cloudt in the season opener.
About the Knights: After snapping their program’s lengthy on-field losing streak with a one-point Week 1 victory over Dwight/Gardner-South Wilmington, Fieldcrest faced the first of two straight Heart of Illinois Large opponents Friday, losing 42-8 at El Paso-Gridley. Eddie Lorton scored the Knights’ lone TD and finished with 59 yards rushing on a night Fieldcrest simply couldn’t get anything going. This week brings another tough HOIC crossover in a Mustangs team that is much better than its 0-2 record might indicate. Controlling the football is Fieldcrest’s best bet toward shortening the game and trying to pull off the upset.
FND pick: Ridgeview/Lexington
Harvard (0-2) at Ottawa (1-1)
When: 7:15 p.m. Friday
Last meeting: Ottawa 63, Harvard 0 (2022)
About the Hornets: Harvard lost to Woodstock North 48-3 last week. WR Danny Rosas has nine receptions for 120 yards to lead the Hornets. QB Adam Cooke leads the Hornets with 48 yards rushing. Last week marked the return to the field for junior Christian Mercado, a year after he suffered a leg injury and was flown by helicopter to a hospital for treatment. Mercado caught the ball on the opening kickoff for a short gain. Harvard has managed only two scores – a Week 1 touchdown and a Week 2 field goal – so far this season while surrendering 76 combined points.
About the Pirates: The Pirates bounced back from a close loss to Plano in the opener to crush Route 23 rival Streator 41-0 in Week 2. Ottawa’s line play started to resemble the force that pushed last fall’s Pirates into the Class 5A postseason, while QB Colby Mortenson – who this season is 17 of 21 for 219 yards and two touchdowns passing and has rushed nine times for 85 more yards and four TDs – put on a show. Featured RB Ryder Miller (259 yards this season) is also off to a great start. More of the same in this Kishwaukee River/Interstate 8 Conference crossover, and Ottawa should have an excellent chance to climb above .500.
FND pick: Ottawa
Streator (1-1, 0-0) at Coal City (1-1, 0-0)
When: 7:15 p.m. Friday
Last meeting: Coal City 41, Streator 14 (2022)
About the Bulldogs: The start to the 2023 season to this point has played out like 2022 for the Bulldogs, who crushed East Peoria in Week 1 only to lose a lopsided Week 2 affair with old Route 23 rival Ottawa and enter the Illinois Central Eight Conference schedule 1-1. Unlike recent years where Streator’s ICE schedule was backloaded with the top teams, the Bulldogs will start off with one of the conference favorites. The Bulldogs have the types of big-play weapons – such as QB Christian Benning, WRs Matt Williamson and Anthony Mohr – to strike from a distance, but will need improved play along the lines to consistently stick with a team like Coal City play after play, quarter after quarter.
About the Coalers: A Week 1 loss to Morris wasn’t unexpected for the Coalers, nor was their bounce-back, 41-0 handling of Canton in Week 2 to close out the nonconference slate. Coal City no doubt is planning to climb above .500 this week, receiving a visit from a Bulldogs team that hasn’t beaten the Coalers since the two first became conference partners in 2014. Punishing defense and running the football are still the winning template in Coalers Country, with the defense coming off a shutout, while featured RB Landin Benson will be looking to follow up a 255-yard, four-touchdown rushing performance.
FND pick: Coal City
Plano (2-0, 0-0) at Sandwich (2-0, 0-0)
When: 7:15 p.m. Friday
Last meeting: Plano 1, Sandwich 0, forfeit (2021)
About the Reapers: Plano rode the big-play ability of Waleed Johnson to its second win Friday. The Reapers’ standout rushed for 210 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown – and had another TD run called back – and caught a TD pass in Plano’s 29-0 win over Manteno. Armando Martinez threw for 65 yards and a TD and had a team-high seven tackles. Plano has outscored its two opponents a combined 30-0 in the fourth quarter. Plano lost the last on-field meeting between these two teams in 2019, but won five of the six rivalry games before that.
About the Indians: Sandwich, in its return to varsity football, is off to a rousing start with a 42-19 win over Peotone last Thursday. Sandwich’s wing-T has been in full throttle through two games. Simeion Harris rushed for 187 and two TDs against Peotone and the Indians rushed for 393 yards as a team. Sophomore quarterback Brady Behringer also threw the first touchdown pass of his varsity career to Calvin Lane Jr. as Sandwich broke open a one-point halftime game. This is the 112th meeting between these rivals dating back to 1897. Sandwich leads the series 55-52-4, and won the last meeting 36-7 in 2019. This is the first time Sandwich has hosted Plano since 2017.
FND pick: Sandwich
Seneca (2-0, 0-0) vs. TBD
About the Fighting Irish: Westmont, which came into the week 1-1 despite suffering through low numbers program-wide, informed Seneca on Wednesday it would not be fielding a varsity team for their Chicagoland Prairie League opener. Seneca is looking for possible replacements to fill the Week 3 void instead of taking the forfeit victory for its overall victory but will be 1-0 in conference play regardless. The beginning of the 2023 season has looked a lot like the 2022 season for Seneca, which opened with a six-point victory over small-school powerhouse Wilmington and kept rolling with a 40-7 triumph over another former conference foe, Lisle, on Friday. This Friday was supposed to bring the third former Interstate 8 Conference rival of Seneca, Westmont, now a charter member alongside the Irish in the new Chicagoland Prairie League. Seneca carries a 13-game regular-season winning streak and last week built a 352-165 edge in yards from scrimmage against Lisle, including 290 yards rushing led by QB Nathan Grant’s 102.
Milford-Cissna Park (1-1) at FCW (1-1)
When: 7 p.m. Friday at Flanagan
Last meeting: Milford/Cissna Park 67, FCW 16 (2022)
About the Bearcats: Milford-Cissna Park brings back starters to only four positions, only one on offense. That one is a big one though – RB/LB Tyler Neukomm, who carried the ball for 1,832 yards and scored 26 touchdowns for last year’s Illinois 8-Man Football Association playoff team. The Bearcats opened this season with a 22-14 loss to still unbeaten Martinsville, then took care of winless Kirkland Hiawatha 42-14 in Week 2. The Bearcats still figure to be an I8FA playoff contender and will be a third straight measuring-stick opponent for FCW.
About the Falcons: Flanagan-Cornell/Woodland easily could be 2-0 after upsetting defending eight-man champion West Central 35-20 to open the season and then losing a heartbreaking 20-17 decision in Week 2 to St. Thomas More. The Falcons are not, though, and could really use a win here over another I8FA powerhouse to finish the first third of the season on a playoff trajectory. QB Seth Jones to top targets Connor Reed, Jonathan Moore and Logan Ruddy looked solid in Week 2 after a first-game rushing clinic put on by Payton Quaintance. If the Falcons can put those offensive aspects together and play defense the way they did in the second half against St. Thomas More, FCW should be just fine.
FND pick: FCW