Zach Miller remembers two things about Oct. 5, 2012: what it felt like to play football on a bitterly cold Friday night and what it felt like to lose to Mattoon.
He doesn't want to have to deal with either of those emotions again this year; instead, he said he wants nothing more than to beat the Green Wave to take sole possession of first place in the Apollo Conference on Friday.
“It motivates me a lot,” Miller said. “Last year, we played a tough game and it was so cold outside – not good weather. I think it's probably been a while since we beat them.”
Mattoon and Effingham enter Friday's game with undefeated, 3-0, Apollo Conference records, but the Green Wave have the best overall record, 4-2, and a quarterback who has picked apart defenses all season.
Jared Pilson has thrown for 1,606 yards this season, 19 touchdowns and five interceptions, including a six-touchdown performance against Salem last week.
While completing almost 61 percent of his passes this season, Pilson also leads Mattoon in rushing. He has four rushing touchdowns this season.
“We have to contain Pilson,” Effingham head coach Mike McDonald said. “We can't let him run all over the place and we can't let him throw over the top.”
In Mattoon's 56-35 win over Salem, Pilson threw four first-quarter touchdowns and all of them were for more than 35 yards, including a 73-yard pass to Jacob Harris.
McDonald said the Flaming Hearts will have to stop Pilson from completing quick strikes down the field, which is something he said Mattoon likes to do after turnovers especially.
Effingham's defense will have the responsibility of controlling Pilson, specifically the secondary that includes Marcus Robinson.
“I know he's a good quarterback and he like to throw deep,” Robinson said. “Our secondary has to get back in our drops and watch (Pilson). That's all we've been doing in practice.”
Pilson top receiver is Malik Joyner, who has three 100-yard receiving games this season, including one 213-yard game against Triad to open the season.
Joyner was limited to three catches for 30 yards last week, breaking a streak of two consecutive 100-yard games. At the start of that streak, Joyner caught seven of eight targets for 142 yards and one touchdown against Mt. Zion.
Robinson said Joyner has good hands and McDonald said he is one of the fast offensive weapons the Green Wave have on their roster.
Mattoon averages 36 points behind Pilson's passing, but Effingham is only allowing about nine points per game during its three-game win streak.
The Hearts' win streak has offered opposite defensive results from their three-game losing streak to begin the season, during which the defense gave up nearly 27 points per game.
However, the Hearts' winning streak has them in position to take first place with a win at home at 7 p.m. Friday against Mattoon and that's the way Miller wants it.
“I can't even imagine the feelilng,” Miller said of potentially beating Mattoon. “It's going to feel real good. Last year, being 2-7 was not a good feeling, and now that we're here at 3-0 in the Apollo, we want to come out 4-0 and that's way better.”
Miller has played an important role in the Hearts winning streak, leading the team with 509 rushing yards and six touchdowns this season.
In last week's 41-7 win over Paris, Miller ran the ball nine times for 171 yards and three touchdowns. He said he'll look to continue that against a good Mattoon defense this week.
“I have to make sure I'm reading holes fast and hitting them hard because Mattoon has a good defense,” Miller said. “They're going to look to shut me down. I'm going to do what I can to make that not happen.”
This season has been a different year for the Hearts, and it's been a long time since the Oct. 5 loss to Mattoon last season, which Robinson said motivates him to keep his team's current streak alive.
“This is one of the biggest games I've played in,” Robinson said. “It's a fire and I'm ready to go, ready to get out there Friday night.”
Olney (5-1, 4-0) at Newton (2-4, 2-2)
Newton has won two games this season by a combined two points, but will be facing the Little Illini Conference Egyptian Division's top team on at 7 p.m. Friday.
The Eagles must win to keep their playoff hopes alive, but it's a tall task facing a team that's on the verge of breaking into the Class 4A Top 10 rankings.
Olney enters Friday's game on a five-game winning streak, including a 4-0 start in the conference, while its only loss came in week one against Casey-Westfield, the second-ranked team in Class 1A.
Despite the week one loss, Olney played Casey-Westfield closer than any other team has this season, losing by only eight points. No team has scored more points or held Casey-Westfield to as few points as Olney has this season.
Newton played Casey-Westfield in a 45-13 loss in the second week of the season and enter Friday's game in the middle of the conference standings.
In each of Newton's wins this season, they've held opponents to less than 30 points despite giving up almost 36 points per game all year.
Olney's offensive has been explosive this season, scoring 35 points per game in the first six games.
Cumberland (2-4, 2-2) at Albion (0-4, 0-6)
Cumberland is coming off of its best offensive performance all season, beating Red Hill 50-36 and scoring more points in one game than it had in its previous five games total.
The Pirates scored a total of 36 points before last week's game, when they exploded for 50 points to beat Red Hill and move into a tie for third place, although they have the head-to-head tiebreaker over Red Hill, who is the other third-place team.
Albion is looking for its first win this season, losing in a shutout last week, 31-0, against Palestine – a team which Cumberland beat 6-0 earlier this season.
Last week, Cumberland was led by quarterback Monte Wolke, who ran the ball 19 times for 204 yards and four touchdowns. His only pass completion of the game was for a 19-yard touchdown.
Cumberland's game at Albion is set to begin at 7 p.m. and is the Pirates' first road game in two weeks.
Alex McNamee can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 123, or firstname.lastname@example.org.