Whether they win or lose against Highland Friday night, the Triad Knights still have too much season left ahead for them to panic.
But head coach Paul Bassler also realizes that for players on both sides of the line, the annual Mississippi Valley Conference showdown is the game of the year.
Especially this year.
Ranked third in the Class 5A state football poll, Highland (4-0) will make the 10 minute trip west on U.S. 40 to battle undefeated Triad (4-0) with first place in the conference on the line.
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“It’s a big game simply because the winner will have the upper hand in the conference and will be a step closer toward a playoff berth,” Bassler said. “This is the type of game you love to be a part of because it will have the feel of a playoff game with your rival from right down the road.
“You’ve got a lot of people who live in Troy who work in Highland and people who went to school in Highland who now live in Troy. It’s a rivalry game and there will be a lot of people here on Friday night.’’
Highland, which defeated Triad 24-0 a year ago, has won three of the last five games between the two.
Highland coach Jim Warnecke was the quarterback at Highland in the late 1990s. He led the Bulldogs to victory on Triad’s old field in 1997.
“I also remember as an underclassman beating Triad at our place my sophomore year in the ’95 Playoffs. It was a cold Saturday afternoon, and a back and forth game until the end,” Warnecke said. “I wasn’t playing varsity at the time, but it definitely left an impact on how special this rivalry is.
“I think those that follow high school sports in both communities circle this game on the schedule each year. It draws more people and alumni than any other game throughout the season. Both teams are very fortunate to have this type of environment to showcase the hard work put in during the off-season and the opportunity to represent their respective communities.”
Both the Knights and Bulldogs have been impressive in the first four weeks of the season.
Triad, which received votes in the Class 5A poll last week, has outscored its four opponents 193-48 and is coming off a 46-8 win over Civic Memorial. Highland, which defeated high-scoring Jerseyville 42-7, has outscored its four rivals by a 195-73 margin.
And while Triad depends on a tough defense and a ball-control running game, Highland brings balanced on an offensive led by senior quarterback Garrett Marti..
“They (Highland) are a very experienced football team with no weaknesses. Offense, defense and special teams, they are just very solid in all aspects,” Bassler said. “Civic Memorial pushed last week and I was pleased at how we responded. But we’ll have to play extremely well on Friday.”
Warnecke doesn’t take Triad lightly, either.
“They’re a good football team with a lot of seniors. That always makes a difference,” Warnecke said of Triad. “They always play an aggressive, fundamentally sound defense and their offensive system always has the potential to chew up the clock, keeping opposing offenses off the field.”
Central, Mater Dei to meet in Milk Bowl
The other rivalry game on tap on Friday is the match-up of the season in Breese as Central (4-0) travels a mile up the road to battle Mater Dei (1-3) in the annual Milk Bowl contest.
The Cougars maintained a share of the Cahokia Conference lead last week with a 14-8 win over Carlyle and head into their showdown with the Knights looking for a second straight regular season win. Central defeated Mater Dei 46-35 a year ago in the Milk Bowl Game, but the Knights ended the Cougars’ season in the first round of the 4A playoffs.
Mater Dei, winless in three games since defeating Effingham in the season opener, have won three of the last five meetings against Central.
Central coach Brian Short knows the game is always a special one.
“We’re proud to be 4-0 and one of two undefeated teams in the (Clinton) county, but it doesn’t mean anything unless we can get to 5-0,” Short said. “This is a big game for us every year, but it means a little more to us this year because its an opportunity for us to win two in a row and make a big statement in this rivalry.’’
Injuries mounting to marquee players
The list of top offensive players to go down with serious injuries continued to grow on Friday when Columbia senior running back Colton Byrd went down with an apparent knee injury on the Eagles first series in a 21-16 loss to Wesclin.
Byrd had had 569 yards and 10 touchdowns in the Eagles first three games. Columbia coach Scott Horner said on Sunday that Byrd is expected to see his doctor early this week.
Byrd joins East St. Louis senior Jarrell Anderson and Edwardsville standouts Dionte Rodgers on the sidelines. Both Anderson and Rodgers are out for the season.
Granite City sophomore quarterback Freddy Edwards, who injured his arm in a week three loss to Belleville East, did not play in the Warriors’ loss to Edwardsville on Friday. Granite City Athletic Director John Moad said on Monday that Edwards is expected to be “out a while.”
O’Fallon, Edwardsville get first wins
Edwardsville and O’Fallon broke into the win column this week with wins over Southwestern Conference rivals Friday.
Filling in for injured teammate Dionte Rodgers, Antonio Thigpen rushed for 171 yards and four touchdowns as the Tigers defeated Granite City 52-7 on Friday. O’Fallon built a big lead then had to hold off a Collinsville charge to preserve the 34-31 win.
The effort was one that coach Brandon Joggerst hopes the Panthers will be able to build upon.
“I was proud of our effort and execution, especially in the first half,” Joggerst said. “Our players gained some confidence and we have to build upon this and continue to get better in all facets of the game.”