EFFINGHAM — After two straight victories, the Hearts will look to keep their modest winning streak going tonight in Mattoon.
The Hearts and the Green Wave are tied for second place in the Apollo Conference, with 2-1 conference records, making tonight’s game even more important.
In order to keep the winning streak going, coach Mike McDonald said his team needs to play well up front offensively.
“It starts up front with the protection,” he said. “Our O-line has to do a lot better up front.”
Then, McDonald said, it’ll be up to Nathan Vail, Caydin Vaughn and the rest of the offense to do their jobs and create a balanced offensive attack.
“If we get our running game going, our play-action game will be that much more effective,” he said. “We’ve got to fight to control the line of scrimmage.”
The two wins have boosted team morale, but McDonald said his team isn’t focused on keeping its playoff hopes alive. The Hearts are only focusing on picking up a win against Mattoon.
However, the team has gained some confidence after playing well recently.
“We’re feeling better about ourselves, but we’ve got a long way to go,” McDonald said. “I think we’re as confident as we need to be.”
Newton (2-4) at Olney (5-1)
After holding a 13-6 halftime lead against Robinson last week, the Eagles couldn’t move the ball in the second half, leading to a 34-13 defeat.
This week, Newton will have to rebound against Olney, the toughest team in the Little Illini-Egyptian Conference.
Newton coach Jason Fulton said his team needs to take care of the ball better if it wants to pull off an upset against the Tigers.
“We had some issues with turnovers last week,” he said. “We’ve got to limit turnovers.”
Fulton added that the Eagles need to improve their running game. Last week, quarterback Dylan Johnson led the team with 57 rushing yards and one touchdown. Allen Taylor was the second-leading rusher with 25 yards.
Fulton said the running game needs to do a better job of picking up first downs and controlling the clock.
“We’ve got to move the chains a little better than we have in the past,” he said.
Fulton added that the Eagles aren’t looking ahead at their remaining schedule, though they still have a chance to make the playoffs.
“We’re just trying to win a game at this point,” he said. “We’re not looking to far ahead at this point.”
vs. Edwards County (1-5)
The Pirates will look to clinch a playoff berth tonight when they play host to the Lions of Edwards County.
Cumberland’s defense has been the strength of the team all year long, holding opponents to only 74 points and forcing some key turnovers.
“I’m proud of them,” coach Todd Butler said of his defensive unit. “Other than Week 5, we haven’t given up too many points. They’re playing well and they’re taking a lot of pride in what they’re doing.”
Offensively, Butler said the Pirates will have to work on their passing game during the last three weeks of the regular season.
“We need to become more balanced,” he said. “We’re pretty one-dimensional with the run.”
Jon Duniphan leads the team in rushing yards, with 506 yards on 105 carries. He’s also scored five rushing touchdowns on the year.
Nathan Day has ran for 252 yards and three touchdowns.
Butler said his team hasn’t had to throw the ball much, instead opting to grind the clock down with a strong running game. But, he acknowledged, that will have to change if the Pirates advance to the playoffs.
“We’ve been able to run the ball and keep it safe,” he said. “But we’re going to need to throw the ball down the stretch.”
Tonight marks a celebration of Cumberland’s 50th anniversary of football. Members of the inaugural 1962 football team will be honored prior to the game.