Expect plenty of offensive fireworks when the Normal West Wildcats visit the Belleville West Maroons at 7 p.m. Friday in the season opener for both teams.
The Wildcats scored 40 or more points in seven consecutive games last season when they finished 8-3 and lost to East St. Louis in the second round of the Class 6A playoffs. They return senior quarterback Mitch Fairfield and senior wideouts Dante Ruffin and Jack Coakley.
The Maroons, who scored 30 or more points in five games, welcome back senior wide receiver TeAntez Anthony, senior running back Nick Foster and junior tailback Paris Johnson. They advanced to the second round of the Class 7A playoffs, losing to Chicago Mount Carmel.
“Defensively, we’re going to have to be on our game,” Maroons coach Cameron Pettus said. “It’s going to be a great test to see where we are as a team.”
Could it be an advantage for the Maroons to play Normal West, which utilizes a spread offense, in the first game when timing could be an issue?
“That could be, absolutely,” Pettus said. “Of course, you never know where you’re truly at, either, in the opener. You don’t really know what you need to concentrate on and get better at. It’s a tricky thing, but absolutely, you want to get a hole of someone before they really start hitting their groove.”
Friday’s game: Normal West (8-3 in 2014) at Belleville West (7-4), 7 p.m.
Last meeting: Normal West defeated Belleville West 30-23 in the season opener last year in Normal.
Scouting the Wildcats: Fairchild split time at quarterback last season with the graduated Arion Worthman. Fairchild, who will play baseball at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, operates behind a huge offensive line and has a bevy of weapons at his disposal.
Fairchild, who threw for 1,160 yards and 13 touchdowns last season, will look for receivers like Ruffin (34 catches, 717 yards, eight TDs last year) and Coakley (23 catches, 440 yards, four TDs).
Running backs Dave Watson and Trevoun McGee also are threats, but the Wildcats will be without their best tailback, senior Dajour Forrest, who rushed for 871 yards and 11 TDs last year. Forrest will miss the opener after joining the team late in the preseason.
“They might try to throw it a little bit more this year than they did last year,” Pettus said. “We know that’s going to be a possibility, but we’ve got to be prepared for both. We’ve got to get after the quarterback and create pressure with our D-line and our secondary has to play disciplined.”
Scouting the Maroons: Anthony can stretch any defense with his pass-catching ability and breakaway speed. He hauled in 52 passes for 686 yards and eight TDs last season.
“He’s fantastic,” Pettus said. “He’s done a great job not only on the field, but as a senior leader, too, he’s really stepped up and taken control of the team. He leads by example. He works hard every day and he’s also getting time at safety. He looks great at safety. I know what a great offensive player he is, but boy, he sure does look good at safety.”
Junior Logan Betz takes over as the Maroons’ starting quarterback.
“Obviously, it’s his first start and he’s going to be excited,” Pettus said. “Us, as coaches, have to help assist him and make sure we keep the game plan simple. He’s a true quarterback. He can throw the football very well and he does a good job moving around in the pocket.”
Lump in the stomach: No matter how many years coaches are in the business, they still battle butterflies in the final hours before the season opener. Pettus is no different.
“It doesn’t change,” Pettus said. “I might be more nervous this year than I’ve ever been in my whole life. It’s crazy. Just the anticipation and the chance to get going and get rolling. It’s a big reason why we do it. We love the adrenalin, we love the excitement and the unknown.”