In the span of seven days, the Central Cougars will go from playing the biggest football game in Clinton County to the biggest game in Randolph County.
After defeating rival Mater Dei 46-35 last week in the Milk Bowl, the Cougars (5-0) will travel to Red Bud at 7 p.m. Friday for a Cahokia Conference showdown against the 5-0 Musketeers.
“After the Milk Bowl a lot of people have been talking about how there might be a letdown, but with Red Bud being 5-0 and them definitely being on the road to a conference championship, I don’t know how it would be possible for us not to be up for this game,” said Central coach Brian Short, whose team is 5-0 for the first time in school history. “There shouldn’t be any overlooking for us right now. Our big push is we’re one win away from six wins.”
State rankings: Central is ninth in Class 3A; Red Bud is 10th in Class 2A
Last meeting: Central won its fifth in a row against Red Bud last season, 41-6. It was the eighth win in the last 10 meetings between the conference rival.
While most coaches felt Red Bud was improved this season, few not wearing maroon and white may have predicted 5-0.
“There’s a lot of buzz around here,” Red Bud coach Dave Lucht said. “We’ve still got something to prove. I think a lot of people are going to make their decision on what type of team we have based on what happens this game.
“I think we can play with them. I expect to be competitive with everybody, but this is the biggest test of the season for us.”
Against three common conference opponents, Red Bud outscored Central but the Musketeers also surrendered more points. The most notable differences were against Freeburg, which lost 47-0 to Central and 56-30 to Red Bud, and against Carlyle.
Central defeated Carlyle 58-18, while Red Bud outscored the Indians 62-48. Rd Bud averages 51.4 points and has allowed an average of 25.8, while Central averages 46.2 points while allowing an average of 17.2.
Red Bud’s last home win over Central was in 2010, when the Musketeers won 3-0 on a 30-yard field goal by Kevin Crafton.
Scouting Red Bud: The Musketeers had back-to-back eight-win seasons in 2009 and 2010 and the 2007 squad was the best in school history at 10-2.
Lucht and his staff have endured some lean years, but not in 2016 thanks to a nuclear offense led by running back Ryan Hess (947 yards and 17 touchdowns on 80 carries; 13 catches for 196 yards), quarterback Griffin Ziebold (45-of-67 passing for 979 yards and 15 TDs with one interception) and receiver Gavin Rensing (21 catches, 534 yards, 11 TDs).
“They’re extremely explosive and they’ve got a really talented quarterback and running back,” Short said. “Both of them have breakaway-type ability and the ability to make people miss in the open field. I don’t think anybody really saw this coming, but they may have. This Hess kid is extremely talented.”
Hess had 301 yards and touchdown runs of 78, 63 and 41 yards last week and also caught a 43-yard TD pass. He’s averaging 11.8 yards per carry.
Red Bud linebacker Logan Houba has 79 tackles, one sack and two interceptions, one of which he returned 99 yards for a TD.
Scouting Central: The Cougars like to pound things out on the ground behind a huge senior-based offensive line. Their top running backs are Collin Thomas (782 yards, 17 TDs), who scored six TDs last week against Mater Dei, and Ben Rakers (577 yards, seven TDs).
“They’ve got explosive running backs and they do a good job of blocking up front,” Lucht said. “They’re real efficient with what they’re doing.”
Central quarterback Hunter Toeben (44-of-79, 594 yards, five TDs, three interceptions) likes to throw to Dalton Wise (12 catches, 103 yards, one TD), Bailey Stewart (eight catches, 171 yards, one TD) and Trevor Kohrmann (eight catches, 113 yards).
Short said defensive line standout Brice Haselhorst (39 tackles, seven sacks) is expected to play despite breaking his hand last week. Lucas Koopman (30 tackles) and Thomas (27 tackles, three fumble recoveries) also help anchor the defense.