BELLEVILLE — Their teammates include a 6-foot-3, 340-pound defensive tackle and a 6-4, 240-pound linebacker, but some of Althoff's smallest players made big contributions in Saturday's 28-7 semifinal victory over Camp Point Central-Southeastern.
Cornerback Michael Harris (5-8, 140) had two more interceptions to push his season total to 10, while cornerback Blake Butz (5-10, 150) added a third pick.
Wide receiver Luke Frazier (5-11, 155) noticed his man blitzing and called it to the attention of the coaching staff, which turned that useful information into a fourth-quarter TD pass.
Junior running back Dennis Jackson (5-10, 155) had 92 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, while punter Jeremy Miller (5-8, 160) again bailed out the Crusaders with a hustling punt play after a bad snap nearly led to an enemy touchdown.
Is it hard for smaller guys to make an impact in a sport where size can be one of the biggest factors?
"I don't think it's that tough," said Harris, who finished sixth in the 126-pound weight class at the 2012 state wrestling tournament. "You've just got to get into it as much as you can. Not only with what you do, but your words and actions on the field. Get people pumped up."
Even with 10 interceptions, Harris is still four short of Drake Marshall's school-record 14 he picked off during the Crusaders' last state title season in 1990.
The slim Jackson is hardly a hammer in the backfield, but as a former wide receiver is able to accentuate his speed and moves to get things done.
The speedy junior leads Althoff with 984 yards rushing and is second in scoring with 12 touchdowns.
"I think us small guys are taking over the world now," he said Monday, breaking into a wide smile. "We're doing a lot of big things this year."
Jackson transferred to Althoff from O'Fallon last spring and grew up playing everything from running back to quarterback to receiver.
"They moved me to running back and I've had a pretty successful career so far," he said.
"For a little guy, he runs hard and he's been doing that the last few games," Althoff coach Ken Turner said of Jackson. "He's gotten better and better each week and he does everything we ask him to do."
Two teams, only one state champ
While Althoff will be aiming for its fourth state football championship on Friday, its opponent is no stranger to the big stage of the state finals.
Althoff (10-3) will play the Mercer County Golden Eagles (13-0) for the Class 2A state championship at 1 p.m. Friday at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.
Before consolidation in 2009, the school was known as Aledo and won three state titles and finished second three times. As Mercer County, the team has three straight playoff appearances and finished 11-1 a year ago, losing 7-0 to Stark County in the quarterfinals.
The Golden Eagles are 51-17 in the state playoffs while Althoff is 33-15.
Mercer County has been ranked No. 1 in the Class 2A state poll all season and is coming of a 26-7 semifinal victory Saturday over Clifton Central. Mercer County allowed Clifton Central running back to gain 158 yards on 33 carries, but limited the opponents to one TD.
Mercer County's top player is all-state quarterback Tanner Matlick, who ignites a prolific pro-style offense. That offense is averaging 43.5 points and had scored 42 or more points seven times.
An athletic, elusive quarterback, Matlick has completed 114-of-183 passes for 1,884 yards and 21 touchdowns with only three interceptions.
His top receivers are Payton Holmes (37 catches, 562 yards, 10 TDs) and Tyson Nylin (29 catches, 545 yards, 6 TDs).
The Golden Eagles also have a solid running attack led by Zach Nelson (126 carries, 917 yards, 14 TDs) and twins Jesse Snyder (91 carries, 674 yards, seven TDs) and Logan Snyder (77 carries, 583 yards, 14 TDs).
Coach Nat Zunkel's squad has piled up 2,834 yards and 54 TDs rushing and 1,884 yards and 21 TDs passing, allowing only 10 sacks all season.
Mercer County's defense has five shutouts and only two teams have scored more than 14 points. The Golden Eagles beat Stark County (10-3) 34-30 on Sept. 28 and beat 9-3 Amboy-Lamoille 33-21 in the quarterfinals.
The Golden Eagles also have outscored teams 141-34 in the first quarter and 357-54 in the first half. For the season, they have outscored all opponents 566-100.
State Finals on TV
Metro-east fans who can't make the trip north to Champaign to watch the state football finals will be able to catch the games on television as well as streamed live over the Internet.
Following is a list of channels provided by the IHSA where fans should be able to watch the games:
Charter Cable: 8/90; DirecTV: 665; Dish Network: 429; Madison: 8. The game also will be streamed live at www.ESPN3.com.
Contact reporter Norm Sanders at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2454.