DANVILLE — After an game of firsts last week, the Schlarman Academy football team will try to go for a rare second this season.
The Hilltoppers will go on the road Friday to play River Ridge for the second time this season, but according to head coach Matt Blurton, they want to make this trip a successful one.
“We are fortunate because we played River Ridge before, so it will be nothing new to us,” Blurton said. “The boys are going to be a little more comfortable this time and I think we are going to be ready in that regard.”
The Hilltoppers lost 52-34 to the Wildcats on Oct. 11, but Blurton said the score did not tell the whole story.
“We were losing 28-26 at halftime and we came out in the third quarter flat and they scored a couple of touchdowns on us,” Blurton said. “The game was closer than the final score because we played them very tight in the first half.
“The conditions that night were extremely windy and we like to throw the ball down the field and it wasn’t there that night and it hurt us offensively, so I am excited about getting this rematch. I know they have had some injuries, but I will be a good matchup this week.”
Like Schlarman, River Ridge is one of the newcomers to 8-man this season and Blurton says their talent reflects that.
“They love the read-options. Their running back (Caleb Rhodes) is lightning quick, he is a tough kid to catch and they have a quarterback (Bryton Engle), who is very fast as well, so they have some speed,” Blurton said. “They were a pretty successful 11-man team and the transition for them has been successful. They are well-coached and they do some great things.”
The Hilltoppers are coming off their win over Christian Life in the first round, a game that continued a historic first season with an historic win at Drummy Field.
“It was our first home playoff game since 1988 and first playoff win in how long, so it was a game of firsts,” Blurton said. “In this inaugural 8-man season for us, we have gone through some firsts and it has been an exciting time.”
For this exciting time to continue, Blurton said the mistakes they made against River Ridge in the first game will give them a blueprint for Friday’s game.
“We made some adjustments last time to make the game close. Going into this week, we know what to expect,” Blurton said. “We know what they did to shut us down in some areas, so I feel that we have a great game plan. We have had a good week of practice so far and we have made the proper adjustments for this week.”
The combination of senior quarterback Marcus Blurton, senior wide receiver Vaughn Black and junior wide receiver Rance Bryant have been the heartbeat for the Hilltoppers. Blurton has passed for 2,385 yards with 29 touchdowns. Black had caught 56 passes for 1,225 yards and 14 touchdowns while Bryant has caught 44 passes for 780 yards.
On defense, Black had eight interceptions with Bryant and Seth Bennett each having four, Bennett has 71 tackles and Zach Henk leads the team with four sacks.
The game starts at 6 p.m. on Friday with the winner advancing to the I8FA semifinals next week against the winner of Saturday’s game with Polo and Lowpoint-Washburn.
Also on Saturday, No. 1 seed and defending I8FA Champions Milford/Cissna-Park will have their first playoff game of the season after taking a bye week last week.
The Bearcats will take on Bunker Hill, who got its first win of the season last week in the first round with a 14-12 victory over Alden-Hebron. The game starts at 2 p.m.