[Mary Beth Nolan]
Morris at Sycamore Spartans
Kickoff: 7:15 p.. Friday, Engh Field
Records: Spartans 3-4, 1-2; Morris 6-1, 2-1
Last week: Morris fell at home to Kaneland, 20-14. Sycamore edged Yorkville, 7-3.
Last meeting: Sycamore lost 28-13 in Morris.
Who to watch: With the Morris defense clamping down on the run all year, the Spartans might need a big game out of Justin Pottorff, who has completed 60 percent of his passes for four touchdowns, five interceptions and 613 yards this year.
Sycamore coach Joe Ryan's comments: "We had a good week of practice. Obviously it was not the best weather but the kids responded and practiced well."
The lowdown: For a second straight week, the Spartans are playing a lose-and-miss-the-playoffs game, this time against a Morris team with a very, very good defense.
But the Spartans are no strangers to elimination games – either games that would give them their fifth regular-season loss, or playoff games. Starting in 2014, they are 9-3 in such games.
"The kids understand the implications of a loss," Ryan said. "The way we've always done it since I've been here is to prepare for each week's opponent no matter what .We've faced quite a few elimination games whether in the playoffs or to get into the playoffs. We've been in those. We try to keep it consistent week in and week out and that's what has allowed us to be successful. We hope that continues, but it might not."
The Spartans have made the playoffs eight straight years under Ryan and in nine of his 13 previous seasons with the team.
This week, they are facing a Morris team that has allowed more than 20 points just once this year. Sycamore has had problems scoring, breaking the 16-point mark just once this year.
Ryan said the goal is to move the ball just to keep it our of the hands of the run-oriented Morris club.
"As good as they are you're not going to score every time. That's just a fact," Ryan said. "What you can do is move the ball and split the field and half, trying to keep good field position so you don't have to go a long distance."
DeKalb Barbs at Yorkville Foxes
Kickoff: 7:15 p.m. Friday, Yorkville
Records: Barbs 6-1 overall, 2-1 Northern Illinois Big 12 East; Foxes 1-6, 0-3
Last week: The Barbs won 42-0 against Ottawa. The Foxes lost 7-3 in Sycamore.
Last meeting: DeKalb was a 52-14 winner at home
Who to watch: Jaylen Hobson reclaimed his spot as the area's rushing leader with his performance last week against Ottawa. He has rushed for 934 yards and nine touchdowns this year. Teams have had success running against Yorkville, averaging 239 yards per game on the ground.
DeKalb coach Matt Weckler's comments: "Some games we've played better than others, but at the same time some defenses we've gone against had some great schemes against us. When we perform well and don't turn the ball over we're a pretty good offense. But when we turn the ball over, or not continue to block or do the little things til the end of the whistle, that's when we struggle."
The lowdown: The Foxes have struggled to move the ball this year, averaging less than 200 yards of total offense per game. Quarterback Ty Liaromatis has 626 yards passing this year. He's completed 47 percent of his passes with eight interceptions and three touchdowns. Jacob Brooks leads the team with 376 rushing yards, while Liaromatis has 206 on the ground but four of the team's six rushing touchdowns.
The Barbs can win the Northern Illinois Big 12 East title for the fourth straight year with a win – although they'll share the crown with Kaneland and possibly Morris.
Geneseo Maple Leafs at Kaneland Knights
Kickoff: 7 p.m. Friday, Maple Park
Records: Maple Leafs 4-3, Knights 4-3
Last week: The Maple Leafs shut out LaSalle-Peru, 21-0. The Knights upset No. 2 Morris, 20-14.
Last meeting: Kaneland lost 31-28 in Geneseo last year.
Who to watch: Josh Marczuk had two touchdowns in the win at Morris last week, and has 548 receiving yards this year to go with seven touchdowns.
Kaneland coach Pat Ryan's comments: "I think our kids are figuring out we're a pretty good football team. We still have things we need to get better at, and I think this week we spent time focusing on those areas. ... Now we're worried about another victory and getting into the playoffs."
The lowdown: The Maple Leafs snapped a two-game losing streak with a win over LaSalle-Peru last week. Zac Olson led the team with 88 rushing yards. Isaiah Rivera competed four of his eight passes for 67 yards.
A win and the Knights are playoff eligible after missing the postseason last year. Two wins to close the year will guarantee a playoff spot. They close the year against Ottawa (1-6).
Genoa-Kingston Cogs at Richmond-Burton Rockets
Kickoff: 7 p.m. Friday, Richmond
Records: Cogs 5-2, Rockets 5-2
Last week: The Cogs lost 46-14 at home to Dixon. The Rockets were 35-7 winners at Marengo.
Last meeting: The Cogs won 28-6 in Genoa last year.
Who to watch: Although the Cogs struggled on offense last week, Payton Phillips still broke the 100-yard mark and score. He has rushed for 915 yards this year.
Genoa-Kingston coach Chad Wilmarth's comments: "We're just trying to finish the season strong. The next two are crucial for the playoffs. We have the opportunity to improve our seed depending on the next two weeks."
The lowdown: The Road Warriors are back.
The Cogs played three straight road games between Weeks 4-6, wining all three. And after the setback to the Dukes, Wilmarth said he hopes the team gets back to its road success against their former Big Northern Conference rivals.
"This is another good example of being pt to the test by going to someone else's house," Wilmarth said. "Richmond-Burton is always ready to play and it's tough to play at their place. We're embracing being the road team and fine tune the details we've been doing well all year."
Wilmarth said it's been a week of "tough love" for the team, focusing on the mistakes the Cogs made in the loss to Dixon. He said the message has been received.
Wilmarth said the Rockets remind him of Winnebago (5-2), a team the Cogs beat earlier in the year.
"We can't be satisfied with a stalemate on the offensive line," Wilmarth said. "We have to drive these guys out and that's what we've been talking about this week. We can't be happy just to get our pads on someone. We have to take them vertical. ... Their interior six are solid ball players."
Hiawatha Hawks at Mooseheart Red Ramblers
Kickoff: 7 p.m. Friday, Mooseheart
Records: Hiawatha 4-3 overall, 4-0 Northeast Athletic; Mooseheart 4-3, 4-2.
Last week: The Hawks lost 55-24 at home to Orangeville on Saturday. The Red Ramblers lost 54-7 at Lena-Winslow.
Last meeting: Hiawatha won earlier this season, 30-0, in Kirkland.
Who to watch: Although he threw a pick last week, Ty Kilcullen continues to be efficient in the quarterback spot for an injured Ethan Hoffman. He has completed 56 percent of his passes for 263 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions.
Hiawatha coach Jason Keneway's comments: "It's not often you see a team twice this season so it's different for sure. We're keeping it mostly the same. We're going into it knowing what's on the line and just need to execute."
The lowdown: The Hawks have been questing after history all year, looking to get into the playoffs for the second straight year for the first time in school history. A win this week makes them playoff eligible. And lurking in the regular-season finale is perennial state power Marquette.
"It's difficult to preach the importance of this game without talking about the playoffs," Keneway said. "It's an important game for us because of the playoffs. We want to get that fifth win, especially this week. We know what's at stake. The guys are ready to come out ready to rock on Friday."
Keneway said he thinks the team will have enough playoff points to qualify for the postseason at 5-4.
But they'll need to bounce back from a loss last week, their second Saturday home loss of the season.
"It was kid of an emotional loss last week with so much riding on that game," Keneway said. "We put in so much work for that to the result is difficult. We have to put it behind us and are goals are still attainable for the rest of the year. So we'll reset, refocus and get right for this game Friday. We have a lot to play for Friday and can make some history for Hiawatha."