DANVILLE — A year ago, the Danville Vikings didn’t know what was going on after losses to Bloomington and Chicago St. Rita to open the season.
Those two losses nearly turned into three straight, but Danville rallied in the final 18 minutes to beat Champaign Centennial 32-23 at Tommy Stewart Field in Champaign.
The Vikings (0-2) find themselves in the exact same position when it comes to their record, but the mindset of this team is different, according to senior quarterback Trent Sherfield.
“Last year, we got down after the St. Rita loss,’’ Sherfield said. “This year, we know that we have played two of the toughest teams in the state and we are making sure that we are ready for this game against Centennial. We have learned a lot from those first two games and it has made us a better team.’’
Danville coach B.J. Luke, who has seen his team’s win six straight games against Centennial, admitted his team handled the loss at St. Rita in a very positive fashion.
“Our kids understood that St. Rita was a very good football team and we used that experience last week to get better,’’ said Luke as St. Rita is currently rated No. 7 in Class 7A. “Looking at the way we’ve practiced this week, I was really pleased.
“I like where we are a group this year compared to last year.’’
The biggest focus this week for the Vikings has been on defense and finding a way to contain Chargers quarterback Jimmy Fitzgerald.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound junior, who has already been offered a scholarship by Illinois football coach Tim Beckman, has thrown for 257 yards and two touchdowns, while also leading Centennial with 156 rushing yards and two scores.
“We have to contain them on defense,’’ Danville linebacker Deonta Turner said. “We have to make sure to keep their quarterback under control and cover all of his receivers, especially No. 4 (Steven Lee).
“We want to play hard as a defensive unit and make their quarterback work for everything he gets.’’
Lee is Fitzgerald’s top target, hauling in 17 passes for 155 yards and one touchdown.
Luke admits this isn’t the typical Centennial team that people have grown accustomed to seeing from former Schlarman standout Mike McDonnell.
“We haven’t seen them in the I-formation, running power and the counter plays,’’ Luke said. “Now, they are in the shotgun and looking like a lot of other teams in the league.’’
And this is the third straight game that Danville has faced a potential collegiate-level quarterback. Bloomington’s Jake Romani passed for 300 yards in the season-opener and last week, St. Rita’s Tommy Mister, who has already committed to Iowa State, ran for 126 yards and passed for 69 in the Mustangs victory.
“It seems like our league (Big 12) is pretty quarterback rich this season,’’ Luke said. “We are going to have to defend the whole field and do a great job of keeping him in the pocket and getting pressure.’’
Sherfield, who is another collegiate-level prospect, committing to Vanderbilt to play defensive back, said the Danville secondary has been working extra hard to make improvements from that season opener.
“That was the first game four our secondary and we have learned a lot already from those mistakes we made against Bloomington,’’ he said. “We got better last week against St. Rita and we hope that we keep getting better this week.’’
Sherfield and Fitzgerald have crossed paths on the recruiting trail.
“Jimmy is a real good guy,’’ Sherfield said. “I got to talk with him quite a bit during my visit to Illinois in the spring. He is a really good football player and we will have to keep him contained.’’
On offense, Luke said he wants to see a little more consistency from his team.
Sherfield has thrown for 429 yards and four touchdowns, but the senior is completing just 34 percent (14-of-41) of his passes. Senior Chris Collier with 12 receptions and 371 receiving yards has been Sherfield’s top target.
“In the first game, we had a bunch of big plays, but we haven’t been as consistent as I would like,’’ Luke said. “We’ve worked on that and going into this week, we have a full contingent.
“We have some people that are back, and hopefully, that means a few more weapons.’’
The Vikings were missing senior wide receiver Denzel Smith in the opener and last week, they played without junior tight end Hoey Watson, who missed the St. Rita game with a shoulder injury.
Tonight’s game is the home opener for Danville. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. and the game can be heard locally on WDAN-AM 1490.
Game 3 Champaign Centennial Chargers vs. Danville Vikings When -- 7 p.m. tonight Where -- Ned Whitesell Field Records -- Centennial 1-1 overall, 1-1 in the Big 12 Conference; Danville 0-2 overall, 0-1 in the Big 12. Rankings -- neither team is rated in the lastest Associated Press polls. On the air -- WDAN-AM 1490 Last year's result -- Danville 32, Centennial 23 Last week's results -- Centennial lost to Decatur MacArthur 38-8; Danville lost to Chicago St. Rita 42-7 Next week's games -- Centennial will host Normal Community; Danville is at home against Normal West. Statistical leaders Rushing -- Centennial: Jimmy Fitzgerald 22 carries, 156 yards, 2 touchdowns; Austin Maltbia 28-131, 1 TD. Danville: Trent Sherfield 45-146, 4 TDs; Chris Collier 20-94. Passing -- Centennial: Fitzgerald 30 completions, 55 attempts, 1 interception, 257 yards, 2 touchdowns. Danville: Sherfield 14-41-4 429 yards, 4 TDs. Receiving -- Centennial: Steven Lee 17 receptions, 155 yards, 1 touchdown, Maltbia 5-31, 1 TD; Kyree Sago 3-32, Allen Terry 2-35. Danville: Collier 12-371, 4 TDs, Denzel Smith 1-32, Hoey Watson 1-26. Tackles -- Centennial: Jeremiah Peoples 13, Leland Jackson 12, Javin Coleman 10, Christoper Luc Bequette 8, Kylan Dubose 8, Ryan Grizzard 8, Devon Johnson 8, Jacob Saathoff 8, Allen Terry 8. Danville: LaTrey Reed 19, Tyvon Cooper 18, Sherfield 14, Tavion Boyd 12, Darrien Rose 10, Deonta Turner 9, Jeff Dye 6.