Tonight is just the second week of the Lincoln Trail Conference season, but it could go a long way in determining a conference champion.
Tonight is just the second week of the Lincoln Trail Conference season, but it could go a long way in determining a conference champion as Annawan/Wethersfield (1-2, 1-0) hits the road for an affair with Mercer County (2-1, 1-0).
Both teams opened conference play with shutout wins a week ago, Mercer County 18-0 over Stark County and A/W 40-0 over United.
“It was nice to get our first win and get the conference season started 1-0,” said A/W coach Brandon Johnston. “We played much better in all three phases of the game than we had the first couple weeks.”
These are two programs that make the playoffs and contend for the conference crown on an annual basis. Mercer County has qualified for the playoffs 22 years in a row, dating back to when it was just Aledo. A/W is on an 11-year playoff streak.
“The simplest answer is probably the biggest factor, which is they’ve had good kids,” Johnston said of Mercer’s winning tradition. “There’s a lot of ways to draw up Xs and Os, but you gotta have good players. These are two programs that have been blessed with good athletes over the years.”
Since the conference realignment in 2010, the Titans and Golden Eagles have split their eight meetings. A/W is currently riding a three-game win streak in the series, including a 28-14 win at Wethersfield last season.
“Any time Mercer County is on the schedule our kids naturally get excited. They know it’s a fun game and they know we’ve played some pretty close and competitive games over the years,” said Johnston of the importance of tonight. “We try not to look at the big picture too much. We tell the kids if you take care of business each week, the big picture stuff will take care of itself. But there’s a little extra excitement. We know how good they are each and every year.”
Mercer County’s one loss this season came in week two, a 30-22 defeat at the hands of Elmwood-Brimfield. The Golden Eagles also have a non-conference win over Knoxville.
Evan Terrill (33car, 143yds, 1TD) has been the most effective running back this season for Mercer County, which comes into tonight ranked #8 in the latest 2A poll. Trey Essig (6rec, 138 yds, 2TDs) and Evan Terrill (6rec, 120yds, 1TD) share the team lead in receptions.
“They’re always very multiple on offense. They want to throw the ball about as much as they want to run it, they’re capable of both,” Johnston said. “They’re a dangerous team with pretty good athletes.”
The spark plug that makes the Mercer offense go is quarterback Rashaun King. The junior signal caller leads the team in rushing yards with 157. He’s also been efficient in the passing game, completing 19 of 34 passes for 337 yards and five scores.
“He makes them go. You could probably argue a few of their players do that, but it’s him in our minds,” Johnston said of King. “He’s got the ball on every play. He’s a good player; he can run the ball and throw the ball. We’ll try to get some pressure on him and force him into decisions a little quicker than he wants to make them.”
The Mercer County defense, which has forced six turnovers this season, gives up an average of 20 points per game, thanks to the blanking of Stark County last week. The Golden Eagles surrendered 30 points in each of the first two weeks.
“Against good teams, opportunities don’t come quite as often. We have to sustain long drives and finish the drives with points,” the A/W coach said of his keys to the game. “And we have to contain their quarterback. If he has a big night, we could be in for a long night.”
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. tonight at George Pratt Memorial Field in Aledo.
The Titans will run out the same starting lineup this week with Coltin Quagliano at quarterback, Zac VanOpdorp at fullback and Bryan Ponce at tailback.
Isaac Frank and Julian Samuels will be the wide receivers, with Kale Nelson at tight end.
The offensive line, from left to right, will be Drake VanHyfte, Tyler Nichols, Cole Sawickis, Logan Troxell and Ty Rashid.
The Titans’ defense will go with VanHyfte, Sawickis and Troxell up front.
The linebacking unit will be Nichols, Nelson, Quagliano and Reece Gripp. Frank, VanOpdorp, Samuels and Ponce will be in the secondary.