EFFINGHAM — The atmosphere has been festive in Effingham all week, with homecoming activities proceding despite rainy weather.
With homecoming and the weather to deal with, the Hearts have had to work to maintain focus on tonight’s game against Paris.
But head coach Mike McDonald thinks his team will be prepared for the Tigers.
“It’s been a little hectic,” he said. “But I think the practices we’ve had have been accomplishing what we want to accomplish.”
After a thrilling 14-13 overtime victory last week against Salem, the Hearts will try to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
“It’s still a playoff situation for us,” McDonald said. “We’ve got to win out.”
Despite not completing a pass for the first three and a half quarters against Salem, the Hearts kicked things into gear to earn a victory. Nathan Vail hit Drew Levitt for a game-tying touchdown and Caydin Vaughn took a Vail pass to the end zone in overtime last week.
Continuing that momentum will be a key against Paris.
“Offensively we’re trying to polish things up and work on our timing,” McDonald said.
He added that he believes the Hearts have more overall team speed than the Tigers, something they need to exploit in the running game.
“Getting to the edge on our sweeps will be very important,” he said.
Defensively, McDonald said his team will need to watch out for the unexpected against a tricky Paris team.
“We have to be disciplined,” he said. “They throw some trick plays in there. We have to be on our toes.”
The Hearts are tied for second place in the Apollo Conference with Paris, Mattoon and Mt. Zion with a 1-1 record. Charleston (2-0) sits atop the standings.
Newton (2-3) vs. Robinson (3-2)
After a defense-fueled 14-6 victory over Marshall last week, the Eagles will look to even their record against Robinson tonight.
With homecoming festivities planned for the game, the atmosphere at Newton High School will be festive, but head coach Jason Fulton said his players will have fun with it and won’t be distracted.
“The atmosphere’s great,” he said. “The kids are all really involved.”
On the field, Fulton stressed the need for the Eagles’ running game to get going.
“We’re still really trying to run the football,” he said. “We’ve had some good spurts, but no consistency.”
The Eagles will rely on Marcus Pillman, Allen Taylor and Brandon Tolliver-Goode to move the ball on the ground and try to open some passing lanes for quarterback Dylan Johnson and wide receiver Dylan Davidson.
The Eagles can’t just rely on strong defensive play to earn a victory against Robinson, a team that features a potent rushing attack.
“We got a nice win last week, but it was all on defense,” Fulton said. “Our offense needs to get going.”
With a win, Newton would improve to 3-1 in the Little Illini (Egyptian) Conference. The Eagles are currently in a three-way tie for second place with Robinson and Lawrenceville. East Richland (4-1 overall, 3-0 conference) is leading the conference standings.
Cumberland (3-2) at Red Hill (1-4)
After a disappointing 34-0 loss to Casey-Westfield last week, the Pirates will look to rebound against Red Hill tonight.
Cumberland’s stout defense will need to play the way they’ve played all season against a Saluki offense that has only scored 38 points all season.
Meanwhile, the offense, led by quarterback Monte Wolke and running backs Nathan Day, Jonathan Duniphan and Holden Elwood, will need to take advantage of a struggling Red Hill defense that has allowed 111 points through five games.
The Pirates are currently tied for second with Oblong in the Little Illini (Eastern) Conference with a 2-1 conference record.
Casey-Westfield tops the conference with a perfect 3-0 record (5-0 overall).