The Times Week 4 preview capsules: Seneca, Sandwich put undefeated starts on the line

Streator, Ottawa, Marquette all home Friday night

Sandwich wide receiver Calvin Lane, Jr. (22) catches a touchdown pass against Plano defender Amari Bryant (13) during a varsity football game at Sandwich High School on Friday, Sept. 8, 2023.

Westmont (1-2, 0-1) at Marquette (2-1, 1-0)

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Last meeting: Marquette 29, Westmont 21 (2015)

About the Sentinels: Suffering through low numbers again this season, Westmont last week forfeited its game with Chicagoland Prairie League favorite Seneca. The Sentinels were coming off a win, 27-21 over Chicago Prosser, a week after losing a lopsided opener to Chicago Crane. Westmont has some experienced, talented skill position players. The question is, can the Sentinels match up along the lines with the physical Cru? If not, it could be a rough night for the visitors.

About the Crusaders: Marquette has righted the ship after a lopsided shutout loss in its opener at Aurora Christian, recording a pair of lopsided victories to get to 2-1 halfway through this four-game stretch facing teams with losing records. With a home stretch of conference games against four teams with winning records (Ridgewood, Seneca, St. Bede and Dwight/Gardner-S. Wilmington) looming, the Crusaders would do well to continue piling up wins during this stretch of schedule. If they continue to play as they have the past two weeks – building on Week 3′s 481-yard offensive explosion led by QB Anthony Couch, TE Charlie Mullen and RBs Payton Gutierrez, Jacob Smith and Jaxsen Higgins – they should be able to do just that.

Friday Night Drive pick: Marquette

Elmwood Park (0-3, 0-1) at Seneca (3-0, 1-0)

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Last meeting: first meeting

About the Tigers: It is safe to say 0-3 is not where Elmwood Park expected to be a third of the way through the season, and things don’t look likely to get better this week facing a rested, undefeated Fighting Irish squad. The largest school in the new Chicagoland Prairie League has yet to stay within striking range of an opponent, surrendering 53.3 points per game while scoring 10.3 in losses to Reed-Custer, Christ the King and Marquette. QB Matthew Fritz is an oft-used weapon for the Tigers, coming off a 189-yard game in which he attempted 27 passes. He’ll have to have a huge performance to keep the Tigers close in this one.

About the Fighting Irish: For the second consecutive season, the Fighting Irish begrudgingly accepted a forfeit victory from an undermanned opponent. That winning off week this time came courtesy of Westmont, and while it’s frustrating to lose a game, it was also a chance to heal up while recording the program’s first win in its new conference. Prior to the unexpected bye, the Irish continued to roll with their power-T offense led by QB Nathan Grant (averaging 107.5 yards rushing, 49.5 passing per game), Asher Hamby (87.5 rushing per game), Nathen Neal (78.5) and all-state lineman Chris Peura. Those numbers might climb after this week with Seneca facing a Tigers defense that allowed 348 yards and six touchdowns rushing to Marquette in Week 3.

Friday Night Drive pick: Seneca

Fieldcrest (2-1) at Tri-Valley (3-0)

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Last meeting: Tri-Valley 41, Fieldcrest 0 (2022)

About the Knights: It’s been a fantastic start to the season for the Knights, including last week’s surprisingly convincing, 36-14 win over Ridgeview/Lexington. That win featured RB Eddie Lorton with a 38-carry, 173-yard game as the centerpiece, with Jozia Johnson recording three interceptions. QB Brady Ruestman threw for 85 yards. Fieldcrest will need to play its best game of the season, though, to keep up with the defending Class 2A state runners-up in the Knights’ final Heart of Illinois Conference crossover of the season.

About the Vikings: A member of the HOIC Large side of the conference, Tri-Valley has picked up where it left off by dominating opponents the first third of the regular season. After opening with a 35-7 win over Warrensburg-Latham, the Vikings defeated Clinton 34-14 and blanked Fisher 57-0. Tri-Valley is led by dual-threat QB Cole Klein, who racked up 243 yards rushing against Clinton. He’s one of four returning offensive starters from the 2022 2A state runners-up.

Friday Night Drive pick: Tri-Valley

Sycamore (3-0, 1-0) at Ottawa (2-1, 0-0)

When: 7:15 p.m. Friday

Last meeting: Sycamore 54, Ottawa 20 (2022)

About the Spartans: Sycamore extended its regular-season winning streak to 12 games last week with a 42-0 win against Woodstock. It was the first shutout of the season for the Spartans, who had six shutouts last year. Tyler Curtis had 141 rushing yards on 15 carries and a score in the win. Sycamore, which is coming off a Class 5A state semifinalist appearance and looks loaded for a deep postseason run again in 2023, has yet to be tested this season, outscoring opponents by an average score of 37.3-4.3.

About the Pirates: While a Week 1 win in a tight game against Plano would have been even better, Ottawa has bounced back with two straight convincing victories to right the ship. This Friday brings the Pirates’ toughest test to date, arguably of the season. To keep themselves in range for an upset, the Pirates will need to continue the offensive success that has led to them averaging 361.7 yards from scrimmage per game, led by dual-threat QB Colby Mortenson (30 of 38 for 408 yards, five TDs, no INTs; 97 yards and four TDs rushing), featured back Ryder Miller (352 yards, two TDs rushing), top receiver Paxton Miller (seven receptions for 100 yards and two TDs) and big-legged kicker/punter Camden Loomis (12 PATs, 35-yard FG). It is the Ottawa defense coming in surrendering 304 yards per game, though, that will really have its work cut out.

Friday Night Drive pick: Sycamore

Manteno (1-2, 1-0) at Streator (1-2, 0-1)

When: 7:15 p.m. Friday

Last meeting: Manteno 38, Streator 22 (2022)

About the Panthers: Coming off their first win of the season, a 34-33 nail-biter over Herscher, the Panthers will look to keep things going after being held to just two touchdowns over the opening two weeks in losses to Sandwich and Plano. Manteno offers a balanced attack, led by dual-threat QB Connor Harrod (three TD passes in Week 3) and featured RB Niko Akiyama, who was the Panthers’ quarterback last fall. The Manteno defense allowed Herscher to stay in the game through the air – an encouraging sign for whoever is behind center for Streator. Manteno last season broke a four-game losing streak to open the season by upsetting the still-playoff-hopeful Bulldogs in Week 5.

About the Bulldogs: Star QB Christian Benning (right shoulder) has been described as “day-to-day” by Bulldogs head coach Kyle Tutt. His presence, obviously, would make a big difference, as even with missing the last 5/8ths of last week’s loss at Coal City, Benning still accounted for 42 of Streator’s 62 yards rushing and 78 of the team’s 92 yards passing. The Bulldogs do feature other weapons, though, including RB Isaiah Brown, backup QB Isaiah Weibel and receivers Matt Williamson, Jake Hagie and Anthony Mohr. The Streator defense will need to put together its best outing of the season against a diverse Manteno attack, though, to not put too much pressure on a perhaps short-handed offense.

Friday Night Drive pick: Manteno

Sandwich (3-0, 1-0) at Richmond-Burton (3-0, 1-0)

When: 7:15 p.m. Friday

Last meeting: Richmond-Burton 55, Sandwich 6 (fall 2021)

About the Indians: In their first season back from taking a year off from playing varsity football due to low upperclass numbers, the Indians continue to surprise. That includes last Friday’s 27-7 handling of archrival Plano, a game that saw a pair of 100-yard rushers – Simeion Harris (153 and a TD) and Nick Michalek (107 and a TD) – lead the Indians’ wing-T attack while the Sandwich defense held a Reapers offense that came in averaging 31 points per game to a single touchdown. Now comes Sandwich’s biggest test as of yet in a game that could have huge KR/I8 Blue implications when it’s all said and done. This is Sandwich’s first 3-0 start to a season in five years.

About the Rockets: Richmond-Burton put together an undefeated regular season in 2022, and is a third of the way there this fall with a 41-29 topping of Woodstock Marian Central Catholic in Week 1, a 25-6 defeating of Quincy Notre Dame and last week a 42-0 blanking of Marengo in the Rockets’ Kishwaukee River/Interstate 8 Blue opener. R-B scored on its initial six possessions last week, led by RB Braxtin Nellessen’s 134 yards and three TDs. QB JT Groh threw for 112 yards and two touchdowns in only five attempts, while the Rockets defense held Marengo under 150 yards from scrimmage.

Friday Night Drive pick: Richmond-Burton

8-man: FCW (1-2) at Danville Schlarman (1-2)

When: 3 p.m. Saturday

Last meeting: first meeting

About the Falcons: Flanagan-Cornell/Woodland continues to put in strong game-day efforts, but for the second straight week the Falcons wound up on the wrong side of a close, wild game. Last Friday’s 54-40 loss to eight-man powerhouse Milford-Cissna Park saw the lightning-and-thunder attack of running backs Payton Quaintance (276 yards, five total touchdowns) and Kesler Collins (86 yards rushing, one TD) put together a huge performance, but a Falcons defense that had held back-to-back opponents to 20 points couldn’t get stops when needed.

About the Hilltoppers: After opening with a 30-point win over Peoria Quest, Schlarman has suffered back-to-back lopsided losses – 66-28 to South Fork and last week’s 48-0 shutout at the hands of previously winless Hiawatha. Defense has been an issue for the Hilltoppers, though offensively an attack led by running QB Owen Jones, RB Princeton Rush and WR/RB Jerrius Atkinson looked strong until last week’s blanking. This is the first of FCW’s four road games this season, having opened the schedule with three home contests, while it is Schlarman’s first game at home since Week 1.

Friday Night Drive pick: FCW

Ottawa cheerleader Chloe Carmona performs on cymbals with the marching band at halftime at King Field on Friday, Sept. 8, 2023.