There’s been a buzz around La Salle-Peru Township High School since Friday when the football team earned its fifth win to become playoff eligible for the first time in a decade.
“It’s definitely exciting,” L-P senior Jake Wagner said. “The community likes it. We’re getting compliments from teachers.”
Now, the Cavaliers (5-1) return home to Howard Fellows Stadium in hopes of showing just how good they are when they play host to Morris (4-2) in an Interstate Eight Conference game at 7 p.m. Friday.
“We’re expecting a good crowd,” Wagner said. “A lot of people want to see if we’re legit. This is a chance to show that we are.”
L-P’s five wins have come against teams that are a combined 9-21 with its lone loss coming against Morton (4-2).
With Morris, the Cavs start a three-game stretch against teams that are 14-4 with the last two games — Sycamore (5-1) and Kaneland (5-1) — on the road.
“It’s going to be a true test of where we’re at,” L-P coach Jose Medina said. “We’ve marked these last three games on the calendar. They’re going to be tough ones. We were trying to get to that mark where we’re playoff eligible. We’ve reached that. Now it’s about trying to get another one, two or maybe even three more wins. By no means will it be an easy task. All three of these programs have been tough in the playoffs in the last few years.”
Not only will Friday’s game serve as a measuring stick, but it also has conference title and playoff implications.
The Cavs are still in the hunt for the Interstate Eight crown as they are one of two teams in the league at 4-0 along with Sycamore, while a sixth win would guarantee L-P a its first playoff berth since 2009.
The Redskins, who are 3-1 in the conference, still have a shot at the conference title and are hoping to return to the postseason after falling short last year.
“It’s a big game for both of us,” Morris coach Alan Thorson said. “Unfortunately, losing to Sycamore (35-6 last week) probably took us out of the conference title race, but L-P is still in the hunt. Hopefully, something happens to Sycamore and we can try to finish one or two. For the playoffs for us, two years ago we were in the state title game and last year we missed out. We definitely want to get back in the playoffs. To get that fifth win and become eligible, that’s all we’ve been talking about. It’s a very important game for us.”
Behind quarterback Zach Reddinger — who is getting Division I interest, including a preferred walk-on offer from Northern Illinois — the Redskin offense was very high scoring up until last week.
Morris was averaging 45.1 points per game going into last week’s game with Sycamore.
The Spartans limited Reddinger to 130 yards on 11-of-24 passing. He scored his team’s lone touchdown on a 1-yard run.
“They’re one of the more balanced teams we’ve seen so far,” Wagner said. “They’re about 60-40 run-pass. It’s something we have to get used to. They have a strong quarterback. We have to make sure to contain him and make sure we don’t let him get outside the pocket.”
Thorson said his team must play well up front and take care of the ball.
“It all starts with the line,” Thorson said. “We’re two teams that have different styles but philosophy wise, we’re trying to do the same thing — run the ball and set up the pass. If we don’t win at the line of scrimmage, we’re in trouble. Our line has to come out and do their job. We have to pick up their shooters and handle the pressure they’re going to give us.
“The weather looks a little iffy. For both teams, turnovers are going to be key. In the two game we lost, we turned the ball over. Every other game we were clean. We pride ourselves on really working on that. We definitely have to hold onto the ball.”
GRIND IT OUT
All season long, the Cavs have relied heavily on the running game.
Last week was no different as L-P ran for 295 yards in its 35-14 win over Ottawa with Carlos Larios leading the way with 220 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries.
L-P quarterback Tyler Hartman also threw for a pair of touchdowns against the Pirates.
“I think for us, it’s assignment football,” Thorson said. “The last couple of years we haven’t seen a ton of Double Wing or Wing-T type offenses, but we’ve already played Rochelle and Sycamore runs a lot of that. We already have some games under our belts with similar offenses. L-P runs it a little different than Rochelle. For us defensively, it’s still the same. Our guys need to be in the gaps, play disciplined and make sure they do their job because L-P is very good at making you think the fullback has it and the quarterback pulls it and vice versa. We have to do a good job of tackling everybody.
“We can’t fall asleep on the pass because even though they’re a running team, they’ve shown they can throw the ball effectively.”
Medina said the Cavs must avoid a slow start after being down 14-6 at halftime last week.
“The biggest thing is consistency,” Medina said. “Right off the bat, if we get the ball, we have to drive down the field and try to get some points whether it’s a field goal or a touchdown. We can’t have penalties or negative plays. If we can grind it out against them, hopefully we’ll be successful.
“The kids need to understand it’s an important game. This team is not just going to sit there. They’re going to come punch us in the mouth and we need to respond and get after it. We hope to get a little momentum and we can continue to build off that.”
Kevin Chlum can be reached at 220-6939, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsEditor.