By JOSH RIZZO
Monroe City gets thirsty
It's an old cliche, but Monroe City football coach David Kirby felt it was an apt message.
"I've been telling them for a few weeks that you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink," Kirby said. "I wanted them to be thirsty enough to block and thirsty enough to execute."
The Panthers figured out how to quench that thirst Friday against Louisiana.
After scoring just 24 points total in the previous four games, Monroe City opened up its running game and throttled Louisiana 55-34 in a Clarence Cannon Conference victory on the road.
"I think the big thing is the kids realize that they have to execute if they want to be successful," Kirby said.
The Panthers (2-5) rolled up 609 yards of total offense, including 562 yards rushing. Junior running back Tariq Garner ran for 389 yards and four touchdowns, while freshman Cody Porter also finished with 110 yards.
"We came out wanting to compete, and we competed way better," junior offensive lineman J.D. Brown said. "We gave it all right from the beginning, and we didn't come out flat after halftime."
It was the culmination of a challenging week.
"I guess it started Monday after we watched film and realized what we did wrong," Brown said. "We had the hardest practices we ever had. We went harder than we've ever gone before and pushed each other to the limits."
Rumble in Carrollton
The schedule set up exactly how Central coach Brad Dixon hoped it would. With both of the division titles already decided in the Western Illinois Valley Conference, the North Division champion Panthers will square off with South Division champion Carrollton to determine a true WIVC winner Friday in Carrollton, Ill.
It just so happens it will be one of the most intriguing small-school matchups in the state as well. Both teams are 7-0 and carry top-four rankings in Class 1A -- Central is No. 3, while Carrollton is No. 4.
"It's not too often the North and South Division champions get to play each other after the division championships have been decided," Dixon said. "We're both 7-0 and will find the true WIVC champion."
The Hawks expect to be Panthers' toughest test yet. Carrollton runs a spread offense and will present Central with a look it hasn't seen this season.
"They have speed everywhere," Dixon said. "They are the best collection of athletes we've played this season. They spread you out and you have to pick your poison because they run just as much as they pass it."
Defensively, Carrollton will bunch its defenders all within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage, selling out to stop the run. The Panthers, who rely the Wing-T offense, may have to put more responsibility on quarterback Cole Phillips, who has completed nine passes this season for 311 yards and eight touchdowns.
"I'm always joking around with coaches trying to get them to call a couple passes," Phillips said. "I trust the line and receivers to make plays when I put the ball out there."
Pleasant Hill and Unity-Payson enter Friday's game in playoff mode. The Wolves (4-3) are looking to win out and earn an automatic playoff bid, while the Mustangs (3-4) are looking to win their fourth straight and keep playoff hopes alive.
It takes five victories to qualify for the playoffs.
Pleasant Hill senior offensive lineman Boe Smith enjoys the sense of urgency that comes along with those games.
"I like being in that situation because then everyone's not cocky," Smith said. "Everyone knows if we lose, we're done. So then everyone is paying attention at practice instead of screwing around because it's a must win."
For Pleasant Hill coach Mike Giles, he understands the impact a loss would have. Pleasant Hill missed missed the playoffs in 2011 despite a 5-4 record. They didn't have enough playoff points to earn one of the 256 spots.
Giles doesn't want to leave anything to chance and believes the improving offense will help them the last two weeks. Pleasant Hill snapped a three-game skid with wins over North Green and Hardin Calhoun the past two weeks.
"We're used to it down here," Giles said. "The last few years, we've been on the bubble, on one side or the other. I think the kids have bought into the offense this year, and we seem to be getting progressively better with what we're doing."
The Mustangs have rattled off wins over Jacksonville Routt (35-13), Triopia (44-25) and Jacksonville ISD (63-12).
-- Josh Rizzo,
Herald-Whig Sports Writer