Fulton’s Max Lemke (17) is tackled by a trio of Morrison defenders, including Ryan Kennedy (33), during the Wooden Shoe Bowl in Week 5 last season. The Steamers have a five-game winning streak against the rival Mustangs, including last year’s 14-12 loss in Fulton. The teams will meet in Week 4 in 2019 in Morrison.
Fulton’s Max Lemke (17) is tackled by a trio of Morrison defenders, including Ryan Kennedy (33), during the Wooden Shoe Bowl in Week 5 last season. The Steamers have a five-game winning streak against the rival Mustangs, including last year’s 14-12 loss in Fulton. The teams will meet in Week 4 in 2019 in Morrison.

Four of the 14 programs in the Three Rivers Ahletic Conference will have first-year head coaches – Newman, Bureau Valley, Kewanee and Rockridge.

Jesse Abbott (Erie-Prophetstown) and Ryan Oetting (Morrison) are entering their second seasons at the helm. Ryan Pearson (Princeton) and Scott Monson (Sherrard) will be in their third seasons. Guy Dierikx is entering Year 4 at Riverdale. St. Bede’s Jim Eustice is getting ready for his fifth season at the helm.

These 10 coaches have a combined 23 years of experience at their respective schools ... or 16 less than Mike Papoccia had in his illustrious run at Newman. The four other coaches – Fulton’s Patrick Lower, Orion’s Chip Filler, Monmouth-Roseville’s Jeremy Adolphson and Hall’s Randy Tieman – have just one more combined year than Papoccia had.

In 2019, a similar, rugged road in the Three Rivers awaits each team – new coach or not.

“It’s pretty much status quo every year with the three crossovers and our TRAC Rock Division. It’s a loaded schedule,” said Lower, who is now the conference’s longest-tenured coach entering his 13th year. “I think we have one of the toughest 2A/3A conferences in the state. You never really get worried about who you’re playing, because there’s no looking ahead.”

Brandon Kreczmer steps into the void left by Papoccia at Newman. The Comets fell short of the TRAC Rock title last year thanks to a 20-17 loss to Orion in Week 3.

Newman starts the 2019 season with its three TRAC crossover games, heading to Hall to open the slate and hosting Princeton before going on the road again to Kewanee. The Comets will visit Bureau Valley, Rockridge and Riverdale in Weeks 4, 6 and 8, with home games against Morrison (Week 5), Orion (Week 7) and Fulton (Week 9).

All four of Newman’s home games will be played on Saturdays at Sterling’s Roscoe Eades Stadium.

“Especially now with the new rules of fresh-soph games on Mondays and Tuesdays, it gives us some more time to prepare,” Kreczmer said. “Personally, I like to scout, so I’ll get the chance to go to Friday night games and see some of the teams we’ll play.”

Unlike Newman, all of Bureau Valley’s games will be at 7 p.m. on Fridays. The Storm start the season with a road game against Erie-Prophetstown – the fifth straight season the two teams have played in Week 1. BV has won the last three meetings.

“Since I’m a first-year coach and we didn’t face Erie-Prophetstown when I was an assistant at Newman, I haven’t seen them in awhile,” first-year BV coach Mat Pistole said. “It isn’t really an advantage or disadvantage, but it’s the only game we’re focused on right now.”

The Storm will then host Hall and travel to Fulton before Pistole gets a chance to square off against the Comets in Manlius. BV will be at Monmouth-Roseville and Morrison, home with Rockridge, at Orion, and home with Riverdale to close the season.

Morrison will start its season with a pair of TRAC crossovers – at St. Bede and home with Sherrard – before heading to Port Byron to battle Riverdale.

The Mustangs will host rival Fulton in the Wooden Shoe Bowl in Week 4. Morrison leads the all-time series 27-15, but Fulton has won the last five meetings, including last year’s 14-12 victory.

The Mustangs close with road games at Newman (Week 5), Erie-Prophetstown (Week 7) and Rockridge (Week 8), and host Bureau Valley (Week 6) and Orion (Week 9).

“There’s certainly some winnable games, but they’ll all be tough. There is no overlooking anyone,” Oetting said. “With Fulton being a rivalry game and Newman having a winning tradition, it creates a tough middle part of the schedule. So the beginning and the end could be our opportunities to make things happen.”

After a Week 1 road game at Princeton, Fulton will be home 3 of the next 4 weeks (St. Bede, Bureau Valley, at Morrison, Rockridge).
However, the Steamers close with three road games in the final 4 weeks (at Orion, Riverdale, at Hall, at Newman).

Fulton competed in the Class 1A playoffs last season after years of playing in 2A. Regardless of their class, Lower said, “it won’t matter if we don’t play well in the regular season.”

On the other side of the league, Erie-Prophetstown is hoping to challenge defending TRAC Mississippi champ Monmouth-Roseville in Abbott’s second year. The Panthers will be on the road against Riverdale in Week 2, then play at Sherrard the following Saturday at 2 p.m. due to the officials shortage.

“One of the things I’ve talked to our guys about is breaking the season down into thirds,” Abbott said. “We need six wins to guarantee a playoff spot, and we want to try to go 2-1 in those three sections.”

The Panthers host Hall and head to Kewanee before closing the regular season with three home games in the final 4 weeks. E-P will host Monmouth-Roseville and Morrison, travel to Peru to take on St. Bede, and host Princeton.

“The back half [of our schedule] is a little heavier than the front half, so we have to get out of the gate quick to play meaningful games late in the season,” Abbott said. “Hopefully our season is going in the right direction so we can take advantage of being in front of our home crowd.”