The Effingham Flaming Hearts have just one game to go to complete the 2021 spring season undefeated.
The team will take on winless Lincoln on the road. Lincoln has yet to score more than 14 points in a contest and has scored just 20 on the season.
“I think the big thing for us that we’ve always talked about in terms of our program is that we’re not playing the opponent, that we have a standard we expect to play to,” said Effingham head coach Brett Hefner. “Last week was a big win, but I also think and believe these guys want to finish out their high school career and their season playing to their standard.”
With no state playoff on the horizon, Hefner talked about how much the win over Mt. Zion last week meant.
“That was a big one,” Hefner said. “Just given the circumstance at what was at stake. People call it pressure, but we had a number of guys who won a conference title in basketball. The whole deal with football season, without having the playoffs was to win it in football. That was about as big and pressure-filled game going in that we’ve had this year. To perform that well and play that well, it was great to see.
“I think the other part of it was that they knew that they were going to be the team to beat in the conference because of the number of skill players they returned. Our guys knew it was going to be a big one.”
However, the Flaming Hearts will be without Nate Thompson under center after the quarterback broke his hand on a touchdown pass to Tristin Duncan last week in the win over Mt. Zion.
In steps junior Noah Jones at the quarterback spot, who had a couple of crucial plays defensively in the Mt. Zion game.
“Here’s the thing about him, we talk all the time about being sure you’re ready and prepared,” Hefner said. “We talk all the time about even when you’re not in getting physical reps, to get in behind your position and get those mental reps. He’s outstanding at that.
“When Trevon [Benavides] got hurt on the opening kickoff, Noah had to go in and play the first series defensively and ended up making a big tackle of being in the right spot because of the amount of time he spends prepping himself to be ready for that situation, and he’s done a good job at doing the same thing quarterback-wise.
“He’s prepared, he just hadn’t had the opportunity to do it in the game. Hopefully he can do the same thing for us this game.”
In a game like this, the depth Effingham has at running back will surely help Jones in his first ever start at quarterback to help take pressure off.
“We’re going to try and control things up front and use our play-action game a little bit,” Hefner said. “We’re fortunate to have a lot of depth there and fortunate that we’ve played very well up front.
“Anytime you have guys go out, you rely on those other guys that are playing to step up a little bit more. So we’ll certainly put a lot of things back on our offensive line and that’s the biggest things we can do to help Noah out.”
After having only two players that had varsity experience coming into Week 1, Hefner talked about the development of the offensive line from that point to now.
“There was going to be a lot of room for growth with them, but we were only playing with two guys who ever played a varsity football game,” Hefner said. “Those guys have done a great job to continue to get better. Losing [Nathan] Barnes and Ethan [Huss] is going to have an effect on us, but it’s also nice to know we have four of the six coming back.”
Among all else, Hefner will rely on his defense to help close out their final opponent on the spring 2021 slate.
“We’re expecting our defense to play well, and they played real well last week,” Hefner said. “Hopefully we get another big night out of them.”