It all comes down to this for Effingham and Newton.
Both the Flaming Hearts and the Eagles have had up-and-down seasons and sit at 4-4, but both can play their way into playoff contention with a win Friday. Effingham heads to Mahomet-Seymour and Newton faces off with Paris on the road.
Wins would push both squads to 5-4, and both could make the playoffs on the strengths of their schedules via playoff points. Effingham played a strong non-conference schedule, with all three opponents knocking on the playoff door. They also faced Mattoon and take on a 7-1 Mahomet-Seymour team Friday.
Newton's non-conference schedule wasn't as difficult, but the Eagles did face an 8-0 Casey-Westfield team. Instead, their strength comes from in the conference, with games against 6-2 Lawrenceville, Robinson and Olney, with an upset against the Tigers.
Now, it's win or go home, and maybe get in with a win. But that's the way Effingham coach Mike McDonald likes it.
"You never know when your last practice is, I hate scheduling practices to be our last practice," he said. "We intend on winning games, making the playoffs.
Newton coach Jason Fulton echoed McDonald's comments, saying the team is prepared with a good attitude.
"It's been very positive," he said. "It's a week we've got to have, we know that. The team has really responded to understanding what's at stake this week."
Before last Friday, Mahomet-Seymour had crushed its opposition, winning seven straight by an average margin of 29.29 points per contest.
They played Normal University last Friday and lost 55-8 to the undefeated powerhouse, and now Effingham must give the Bulldogs their second straight loss.
Quarterback Joe Kenney has thrown for 1,601 yards this season and 17 touchdowns. The Bulldogs may be without running back Tyler Francisco, who had rushed for just under 900 yards entering last week's game. He was injured in the loss and could miss Friday's tilt.
"They like to throw the ball downfield, they've got four or five really good receivers and they've got a quarterback that can really launch it," McDonald said. "We're going to have to stop the running game with a number of people in the box, with the six in the box, and make sure they throw short. We've got to be disciplined in the secondary."
It'll come down to running the ball for Effingham, after success last week with Zach Miller and Billy Arndt.
"We've got to be able to control the line of scrimmage," McDonald said. "When we spread it out, the matchups they give us are not good. They like to blitz with the linebackers. It's going to be important to establish the ground game and use the play action passing game."
For the Eagles, they face a Paris team that has lost five of its last six games. The Tigers started 2-0 with wins over Cumberalnd and Watseka, but have only beaten Charleston since.
The key for Newton will be the offense. Paris hasn't won a gmae this season where they've allowed more than 14 points, and has given up an average of 47.4 points per game in their losses.
Effingham had a boatload of success running the ball during its 41-7 win over Paris, and Newton's offense has been clicking on the ground as of late.
Allen Taylor has been a workhorse, but the introduction of freshman Mitch Bierman into the backfield has sparked the offense since the Lawrenceville lost last month.
"We've just got to continue doing what we've been doing, which is running the ball effectively," Fulton said. "Paris' defense is better than what they've been given credit for. We've got to be able to throw the ball too."
Sophomore quarterback Brock Mammoser has been steady under center all season, hooking up with Austin Angel and Kyle Muska in the passing game, which can produce the big play when called upon.
Defense has been a struggle at times for Newton, as they've allowed under 30 points in a game just three times this season (all wins). Paris' offense has been shutout twice and only scored over 30 points twice, so Newton could match up well with the Tigers.
Still, Fulton said the Tiger offense was similar to their defense: potentially underrated.
"It's a little deceiving, I think their offense is actually pretty good," he said. "They can score, their quarterback, fullback, wide receiver. They create a lot of problems for us defensively with their speed."
To close out the slate, Cumberland (2-6) hosts a playoff-bound Olney Tigers (6-2) team on Senior Night Friday.
Olney has scored at least 21 points in every game this seasons, with its only losses coming to undefeated Casey-Westfield and Newton. Their defense has been strong for the most part, not allowing more than 21 points in all six of its wins.
Cumberland was eliminated from the playoffs two weeks ago with a loss to Edwards County and fell to Flora last week, but the Pirates are looking to close out a tough 2013 season on the right note.
All three games begin at 7 p.m.
It all comes down to this for Effingham and Newton.
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