The playoff-bound Triad Knights can clinch a tie for the Mississippi Valley Conference championship and perhaps crack the top 10 in the Associated Press Class 5A state football poll with a win against the Highland Bulldogs Friday.
For coach Paul Bassler and the Knights, both of those accomplishments take a backseat to more pressing matters: It’s rivalry week in Troy and Highland. For fans, coaches and players of the two schools, few things revolving around high school athletics are more important than the annual battle between the Knights and Bulldogs.
“Every high school football team in the nation has a natural rival. With the two towns 12 miles apart and in same conference, Highland is our rival,’’ Knights coach Paul Bassler said. “I remember my first couple of years. (Highland) coach Mike Hooker would say this is like Michigan-Ohio State. It doesn’t matter if one team is 0-8 and the other 8-0.”
Looking to break a three-game losing streak against Highland (3-3, 2-1), Triad (6-0, 3-0) will host the MVC showdown in a game which features a young and improving Bulldog squad against the rock-solid Knights.
Highland, which began the season by losing three of its first four games, has been impressive the past two weeks. Led by junior running back Logan Chandler (896 yards 12 TDs) and freshman quarterback Brett Wuebbles (677 yards, 11 TD passes), Highland has scored 105 points.
“We are a young football team and it has taken a few weeks for these players to learn.and improve,’’ Highland coach Jim Warnecke said. “The last two weeks we’ve really progressed and we’ve gotten healthy. I’m not making excuses because they beat us fair and square, but in the game against Mascoutah we had some of big kids up front out with injuries. They’re back and playing now and its made a difference.’’
Triad also was challenged by Mascoutah. Trailing the Indians (3-3) 12-7 after three quarters last week, the Knights rallied for a 22-12 win.
“This football team has been very business-like all year,’’ Bassler said. “There has been no looking ahead to two or three weeks down the road or the playoffs. It’s been one game, one week at a time. This week it’s Highland.’’
With three weeks remaining in the regular season, four teams, led by undefeated and Class 5A top-ranked East St. Louis, have clinched spots in the IHSA playoffs which will begin with first round games, Nov. 1-2.
East St. Louis, which defeated Edwardsville 43-21 in a battle of Southwestern Conference powers a week ago, is 6-0 and can clinch a tie for the SWC title with a win at O’Fallon on Saturday. Nashville (6-0), Columbia ( 6-0) and Triad are also in the playoffs
Mater Dei (5-1) can clinch a spot this week when it hosts Granite City (2-4). Four teams — Salem, Civic Memorial, Cahokia and Edwardsville — are 4-2 and need one more win to become playoff eligible.
Nine other teams sit with 3-3 marks and need to win two of their last three games then hope they have enough playoff points to be able to extend their seasons into November. Central, Freeburg, Red Bud, Highland, Mascoutah, Wood River, Marquette, O’Fallon and Allton are all 3-3 for the season.
The Illinois High School Association will announced its 2019 playoff field and first round games on Saturday, Oct. 26.
Undefeated Eagles do it with ‘D’
Heading into the season most people knew that the Columbia Eagles had two of the most skilled and fastest running backs in the Cahokia Conference in seniors Donavan Bieber and Ronnie Hunsaker.
They also knew that quarterback Nic Horner was returning for his third season and that brother, Sam Horner, was back as one of the top multi-purpose players in the St. Louis area.
But one of the major reasons for Columbia’s 6-0 start has been its defense. Led by senior linebacker Eli Wagner, the Eagles have allowed just 20 points all year and have three shutouts in their last four games.
“Our defensive is playing with a lot of confidence and are pretty stingy,’’ Eagles coach Scott Horner said. “They really swarm to the ball and we have been getting lots of hats to the ball carrier.
“We have stayed relatively healthy and our guys are believing more and more each week. They are really starting to take what they learn in practice and applying it to game situations.”
Currently 4-0 in Cahokia Conference play, Columbia can clinch a tie for the league crown on Friday when it hosts Central. The Cougars (3-3) are tied with Salem for second place.
Freddy vs. Zach
Two of the most explosive players in the metro east will put their talents in display Friday when Granite City (2-4) takes on the Mater Dei Knights in Breese.
Granite City senior quarterback Freddy Edwards, although slowed by a groin injury, has thrown for 390 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for nearly 600 yards and seven touchdowns. Edwards has averaged nearly 15 yards per rushing attempt.
Headed to Miami (Ohio) University, Edwards torched the Knights for 430 yards of total offense in a 39-37 Warriors win a year ago..
Mater Dei (5-1) is paced by senior Zach Napovanice who leads the entire St. Louis in touchdowns (19) and points (118). Napovanice has run for 1,015 yards and 15 touchdowns while catching four touchdown passes.
Looking for win No. 1
While four metro east area teams look to keep their perfect seasons going, Collinsville and Carlyle are hoping that week seven will provide some good luck as they seek their first wins of the season.
Collinsville travels to take on Mattoon (1-5), while Carlyle will play at Salem (4-2).
Madison is also winless at 0-6. The Trojans are not playing this week.