Flanagan-Cornell/Woodland senior Jackson Mathe (10) prepares to bring down Pawnee's Xavier Hudgins (15) during the second quarter of Saturday's I8FA quarterfinal game in Flanagan.
Flanagan-Cornell/Woodland senior Jackson Mathe (10) prepares to bring down Pawnee's Xavier Hudgins (15) during the second quarter of Saturday's I8FA quarterfinal game in Flanagan. — For The Times | Tom Sistak

Ask most coaches regardless of sport and they'll tell you that they hope their team is playing its best when the postseason approaches.

That has certainly been the case for the Flanagan-Cornell/Woodland head football coach Todd Reed and his team — winners of five straight games, including wins in the opening two rounds of the Illinois 8-Man Football Association playoffs. The No. 4-seeded Falcons (8-3) will look to continue their strong play on Saturday at 2 p.m. when they travel to take on defending state champion and top-seeded Milford-Cissna Park (10-0).

FCW's last defeat came at the hands of the Bearcats in a 78-36 setback in Week 6 — a contest in which the Falcons trailed by just four with two minutes remaining in the first half.

"When we played them the first time we talked to the kids before the game of how getting to play the No. 1 team in this league, the defending state champs was a great opportunity," said Reed. "We played them tough in the first half and midway through the third quarter, but then they started to pull away and we had a couple injuries. They have the experience from last season and they have things rolling pretty good but we hung with them."

Reed feels his team took a lot away from that game despite the loss and can't be happier with how his squad is playing just one victory away from a chance to play for the state title.

"Without a doubt Saturday is going to be a tough task for us, but I love how we are playing now and our confidence is sky high," Reed said. "We are just going to approach this game like we did in Week 6, the pressure is on them, they are the No. 1 team. We just need to go out, play hard, have fun, and play the game the way we can.

"Anything can happen come playoffs."

Milford-Cissna Park has scored no less than 40 points in any of its games this season, averaging 58.7 while allowing 22.9. In the first game with FCW, the Bearcats rushed for 620 yards — senior quarterback Penn Stoller (89 carries, 1,210 yards, 19 TDs; 42-66, 1,415 yards, 26 TD, 1 INT) posting 292 and four TDs and running back Nick Allen (34-535-9; 15 catches, 418 yards, 9 TD) adding 188 and four scores. Angel Salinas is second on the team with 874 rushing yards, while Keegan Boyle is tops in receiving yards with 594 on 14 catches and 10 TDs.

"Their offense is tough to stop," Reed said. "We were able to score on them as well, but every time they got the ball back we had a heck of a time stopping them. They are very dynamic with their quarterback and option game, as well as having a big, strong offensive line. They are just a very strong team. We have improved so much on defense as far as containment goes, especially the last five weeks, and we feel that is the most important part of the 8-man game. We will also need to continue do do a good job in one-on-one tackle situations."

FCW offense is paced by a trio of seniors: running back Tavarre Phifer (156-1,411-19), quarterback Braden Wallace (71-124, 925, 12, 3) and receiver Tyler Harms (46-636-11), while the leading tacklers on defense are William Weber (72), Chris Stasko (62) and Dameon Hunter (53 1/2, 17 for loss).

"We are going to have to find ways to slow down No. 3 (Phifer) for sure because he is a very good running back," said M-CP head coach Clint Schwartz. "He's one that when he gets a full head of steam, whether it's to the sideline or up the middle, your in trouble. He is lighting in a bottle and a kid that can make a big play happen at any given time. They also have a tight end, No. 88 (Harms), who is a big time playmaker and a very good blocker. He big and tall kid who is a tough one to bring down. They have a very good offensive line as well.

"We are going to have to establish the running game from the start and hopefully that can open up other options for us. We are planning for a much different look defensively from them than the first game, so another key for us will be adjusting to how they are playing us defensively. We have a lot of returning kids from last year, so we will also be relying on our experience from last year."


FCW Falcons (8-3) at Milford-Cissna Park Bearcats (10-0)

Kickoff: 2 p.m. Saturday at Milford

Last meeting: Milford-Cissna Park 78, FCW 36 (Week 6)

FND pick: Milford-Cissna Park