EDWARDSVILLE — The margin for error will be thin when Edwardsville plays host to Lincoln-Way East on Saturday in the quarterfinals of the Class 7A playoffs.
Lincoln-Way East (9-2), which is located in the Chicago suburb of Frankfort, was runner-up in Class 7A last season and hasn't missed the playoffs since 2000. Edwardsville (11-0) is the lone remaining unbeaten team in the class.
"It will probably be one of the best-coached teams we've faced," Tigers coach Matt Martin said. "Their kids are very disciplined, very physical. Defensively, rarely do they give up the big play. (Their) special teams are extremely solid; they don't give up big plays on that.
"Offensively, they have the ability to throw the ball and run the ball very well. It's an extremely fundamental team."
Today's game, weather conditions: Lincoln-Way East at Edwardsville, 3 p.m. The temperature is expected to be unseasonably mild at about 70. The drawback? Rain is predicted.
Scouting the Griffins: Lincoln-Way East has a ball-control offense that revolves around quarterback-turned-running back Jordan Wirtz, a senior. Martin knows him only as No. 5.
Wirtz, who made the transition to tailback after injuries to Brian Casey and Alex Craft, rushed for 182 yards on 22 carries last week in Lincoln-Way East's 57-40 triumph over Oswego East. The Griffins racked up 241 yards on the ground.
Wirtz's position switch opened up quarterback for Weller, who was 13-for-26 for 254 yards and four touchdowns against Oswego East. Martin knows Weller as No. 12.
"I think their coach (Rob Zvonar) said they were neck-and-neck all year," Martin said of the battle between Wirtz and Weller to play quarterback. "But No. 5, the original starter, was a little bit more of a runner and a passer. This (Weller) kid throws the ball extremely well."
Three of Weller's touchdown passes last week were to Austin Winkler, who had eight receptions for 159 yards. The Griffins scored 27 points in a span of 5 minutes, 25 seconds in the second quarter.
"They like to run the ball. It fits into what they do," Martin said. "They like to control the clock, play solid defense and with their special teams, they win the field-position battle on you and wear you down. They short-field you, short-field you, short-field you."
Illinois recruit Nick Allegretti (6-foot-3, 285 pounds) anchors the Griffins' offensive line.
"Their center is enormous," Martin said of Allegretti. "They've got good size. I think you're going to see two very similar programs. Like us, they have your average hard-nosed high-school football players who do what they're supposed to do."
Lincoln-Way East's only losses were to Homewood-Flossmoor and Bolingbrook. The Griffins lost to Glenbard West 10-8 in the championship game of Class 7A last year.
Eye on Edwardsville: The Tigers have dominated the first two rounds of the playoffs, blasting Tinley Park Andrew 59-28 and Bradley-Bourbonnais 42-0.
Junior quarterback Dan Marinko rushed for 91 yards and two touchdowns and was 9-for-11 for 171 yards through the air. Senior D'Anthony Knight also scored two touchdowns and senior Elijah Crockett had 139 yards rushing.
Martin hopes the Tigers maintain their momentum.
"I really don't know how much last week has anything to do with this game," he said. "I'm the one that's always nervous. I think our kids have always had confidence. I just think it's going to be about our preparation. In turn, you have to go out and execute. Some weekends you execute, some you don't.
"We've told the kids all year, 'You either go out and execute and perform well or you go home. If you do the things you know you're supposed to do and you're capable of doing, you move on.' The competition usually gets greater each step. That's the bottom line. As you move on, your mistakes will be magnified."
Keys to game: Martin maintains that field position will be paramount. The team that has it probably will come out on top.
"Defense, special teams and field position," he said. "Don't get me wrong. I'm not disrespecting their offense. Their offense is very good.
"They're good enough that if you give them enough short fields, they're going to put points on the board."
If the weather is nasty, well, so be it, Martin said.
"All that stuff will be the same for both teams," he said. "I don't really get caught up in that too much. But it's nice to be at home."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2665.