High School Football

East hits road to face high-powered Normal West

The head-coaching debut of Kris Stephens at Belleville East didn’t go as planned Friday when Normal Community turned a close game into a fourth-quarter rout.

But Stephens said the 63-31 loss may have given the Lancers a better indication of what they’re up against this week when they hit the road for a 7 p.m. game at Normal West.

The Wildcats, like Normal, possess a balanced attack led by senior quarterback Mitch Fairchild, senior tailback Dave Watson and senior wideouts Dante Ruffin and Jack Coakley. Another running back, senior Dajour Forrest, also could return after not playing last week in a 34-30 win at Belleville West.

“They’re very similar to Community,” Stephens said of Normal West. “They’ve got a really good running back and a couple of good receivers, and they’re big up front. The old coaching adage is you make your biggest improvements from week one to week two, so hopefully we’ll get out there in week two and show all the adjustments we made this week.”

The biggest adjustment, Stephens said, is cutting down on mistakes.

“We counted four or five opportunities that we should have scored,” he said. “There were balls that were dropped or (we missed) one block here, one block there. Then on the other side of the ball, we’ve got to do a better job of making sure we’re getting in the right spot at the right time and executing when we do get there.

“If all of that comes together, then we’re still hanging with (Normal) even when they have 60 on the board.”

Friday’s Game: Belleville East (0-1) at Normal West (1-0), 7 p.m.

Last Meeting: Normal West defeated the Lancers 27-23 on Sept. 6, 2014, in Belleville.

Traveling by air: The Lancers have been a run-first, pass-if-needed team in recent seasons, but Stephens already has made it clear that East will take to the air much more frequently. Senior quarterback Drew Millas was 16-for-31 for 216 yards and two touchdowns last week.

“I think we threw the ball more than people expected us to,” Stephens said. “Our game plan this week is pretty similar. (Normal West) runs a similar defense. Not quite the same, but there’s definitely some things in there that we can take advantage of.”

Scouting the Wildcats: Fairchild runs Normal West’s no-huddle offense with precision. He is a threat to run at any time, and against Belleville West, he was 21-for-36 for 244 yards and one TD. Watson, who had 22 carries for 87 yards, combines power and open-field speed. Coakley is a physical receiver whose 6-foot-3 height gives him an edge against most defensive backs.

No head-hanging: Stephens said the Lancers “had a great week of practice” despite allowing 28 consecutive points to Normal after trailing just 35-31.

“It was probably one of the most solid weeks (of practice) on both sides of the ball, putting everything together,” he said. “The kids are really looking forward to (Friday). They’ve responded very, very well. This is a business trip.”

Contact reporter David Wilhelm at dwilhelm@bnd.com or 618-239-2665. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidMWilhelm.