Milford 1015

Milford/Cissna Park running back Kyle Popham, shown here running around the end in a Oct. 2 game against the Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman Buffaloes, will try to help the Bearcats move on top of the Vermilion Valley Conference standings this Friday when Milford/CP takes on the Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac Comets.

The Milford/Cissna Park Bearcats didn’t hesitate to celebrate last week’s 49-14 win over Schlarman which guaranteed them a spot in this year’s playoffs.

But the celebration was short-lived. It wasn’t that securing the program’s first playoff berth since 1997 wasn’t cause for extended celebration. They just feel as though they have more to prove.

Since losing their only game of the season to Westville in Week 5, the Bearcats have been in search of redemption. And knocking off the Vermilion Valley Conference’s top team this Friday would offer just the atonement they are looking for.

“We have our chance to prove that that wasn’t us that showed up that night in Westville,” MCP coach Nate Albaugh said. “We want to prove that. For all of us, that was a game we didn’t feel good about and we feel like we need to wash our hands of.

“Here we were in a situation where we felt like we would never get a chance to prove ourselves after that. It was what it was and we’ll move on from there. Now, all of the sudden, (by defeating Westville and remaining undefeated in the conference) Oakwood has given us an opportunity to prove who we really are. All of us are just itching to death to play Friday night. It can’t get here soon enough.”

The Comets (6-1 overall, 5-0 in the VVC) are currently sitting alone at the top of the VVC with the Bearcats (6-1, 4-1) and Salt Fork Storm (6-1, 4-1) tied for second place.

With each team guaranteed a playoff spot, the focus has shifted to winning the conference.

“It’s something these kids want badly,” Albaugh said. “It’s something none of them have been a part of and all of them, for their high school careers, have had to sit back and watch other people be the great ones. It’s their turn now, and they’ve got a shot of being the great ones and being the team that people write the articles about. They want that. They want that badly. We’re having no problem right now thinking Oakwood and Oakwood only.”

But the difficulty comes in trying to crack the bubble that has so far surrounded the Comets in conference play. As a team that lost a handful of close games last season, OAP has made a commitment to finishing. MCP is expecting a shootout against the Comets and simply wants to stop OAP one more time than it is stopped.

“They are a tough team but we are pretty tough, too,” MCP’s Kyle Evans said. “They’re going to run it and we’re going to have to try to stop the run.

“They’ve been winning the close games that they couldn’t win last year. We just have to be the team that will fight through to the end, keep a lead and not let them do what they’ve been doing to other teams.”

The Comets are fully aware that every other team in the VVC is aiming for the rather large target they have been given this season. But rather than shying away from the spotlight, they are embracing the challenge and are preparing for nothing short of a 48-minute fight against the Bearcats.

“I don’t mind it at all,” OAP coach Gary Denhart said. “You look at the good teams in this conference, Salt Fork and Westville, the teams that have been on top the last couple of years, we’ve been shooting at their target and we don’t mind wearing that target at all. No one’s complained about being on top and taking shots at us. We worked hard to get here.

“Our focus is, if we beat Milford, we’ve got a share of that title. If anything, we’re saying don’t look past Milford. Everything that we’ve worked for — and we’ve turned it around this year — we don’t get it unless we beat Milford.”

Last season, the Bearcats outlasted the Comets in a 21-20 overtime thriller, setting up what should be another battle this Friday.

But for the Comets, the implications for this week’s game go far beyond a VVC title. In addition, they are playing to better their playoff standing.

“It’s really big for us,” OAP running back Arlen Kerst said. “If we get another win, we get a home playoff game. If we win this game, we are co-conference champs. I think we are going into this game pretty confident. We’re having a good week of practice and we’ll be ready to go.

“Everybody wants to beat us. I feel like definitely Milford is going to bring it hard and so is Salt Fork. We’ve definitely got a target on our backs. We’re going to have to play our hardest every game.”

The Storm will be in Danville taking on the Schlarman Hilltoppers (0-7, 0-5) in an attempt to remain in the VVC race.

The Bismarck-Henning Blue Devils (3-4, 2-3) will take their first step to becoming playoff eligible when they face Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman (3-4, 2-3), and the Westville Tigers (4-3, 2-3) continue their fight for the postseason against Hoopeston Area (1-6, 1-4). All games are scheduled to kick off at 7 p.m.

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