COAL CITY — To get to the Class 4A football semifinals, Coal City will have to beat the team many feel is the team to beat in the entire class.
Alleman brought an 8-1 record and 38 opponents' wins into the playoffs and was rewarded with a No. 1 seed. In the playoffs, the Pioneers have defeated one of the Coalers' Interstate Eight Conference Large Division rivals, Manteno, by a 49-26 final and the team that eliminated the Coalers in 2011, Stillman Valley, in a 42-7 blowout.
Scores were often similar for the Pioneers during the regular season, as they have now outscored their 11 opponents by a 388-96 margin. Their only loss was to Rock Island, which went on to earn a No. 3 seed in the 6A playoffs.
"They've been really solid the last few years and have a lot of kids returning. They've got the ball rolling pretty well here," Coal City coach Lenny Onsen said of the Pioneers. "They've kind of handled a lot of people and bigger schools. Their only loss was to Rock Island, 10-7, and I do think some weather and injury issues played into that. They're a very solid team."
Like the Coalers' first two playoff opponents, Alleman features an option-heavy offense. It rushed for 310 yards on 53 carries against Stillman Valley. Adam Hoogerworf rushed for four touchdowns in the game, and Sean Wetherell added another on the ground. Aiden Ford also hit John Tracey on a 67-yard touchdown pass.
Last week, the Coalers faced a Geneseo team that had scored 299 points on the season using its own option offense. The Maple Leafs play in a conference (the Northern Illinois Big 12 West) that features several large-enrollment schools, as does Alleman's (the Western Big 6). The Coalers held the Maple Leafs without an offensive touchdown and under 200 yards of total offense.
"I see us doing what we always do," Coal City defensive lineman Matt Burchfield said. "If we come out with a lot of people in the box, they'll try some quick passes to keep us honest. ... But if we stay disciplined, I'm confident we can stop that type of offense."
Manteno and Richwoods are the only teams to score more than 13 points in a game this season against an Alleman defense that has shut out four opponents. Onsen says it is one of the fastest defenses the Coalers have faced all season.
The Pioneers will face a Coal City offense that produced just 142 yards against Geneseo. Coal City's only touchdown in the game came on special teams.
"They're quick, but we can match that by establishing the run and powering 'em," Coal City quarterback Brennan Shetina said. "I know I didn't play my best last week, and when the plays are there in the passing game we have to make them. Run-wise, Ryland (Tondini) and the offense line can get it going and open things up."