COAL CITY – There are those out there who may think that the Coal City football team is simply glad to be here. Here being the IHSA playoffs after sitting at 3-4 three weeks ago.
“I think we’re pretty fortunate to be where we are because we were at 3-4 at one point this season,” Coal City senior Lane Cowherd said. “At that point, we were just hoping to be .500. Now we get the chance to play a 10th game, and that’s pretty awesome.”
Coalers’ head coach Lenny Onsen said it was hard work on the part of his team that made the turnaround possible.
“The kids really kept their heads up and they’ve worked hard. After the Peotone game, which was a tough loss, they knew they had to win the next two in order to give us a chance,” Coal City coach Lenny Onsen said. “We kept looking at it [playoff points] and nobody was really sure, but things change quickly and they did. We were fortunate that things happened the way they did, and I think the kids are thrilled. The preparation the last two weeks has been outstanding. They have been focused and ready to go. Now the kids have another opportunity to play.”
That opportunity will come against Quincy Notre Dame – a No. 1 seed that finished with an 8-1 record.
“They are a very athletic football team. A team coming off a 5-5 season and now they are 8-1,” Onsen said. “I think that shows a real growing experience. They are much improved this year.”
The same way the Coalers are not the same team from three weeks ago.
“It looks like they are pretty solid,” Cowherd said of the Raiders. “Obviously, they are 8-1. But we’re just preparing the best way we can.”
Preparing for a team that is relatively similar to what the Coalers have seen this season.
“If I had to compare them to a team that we’ve played, I’d say Peotone or Plano,” Onsen said. “That type of a club.”
“I’d say they look like nothing we haven’t seen,” Cowherd said. “I don’t think they will have any big surprises for us or anything.”
On offense, the Raiders are a versatile team, according to Onsen.
“They will spread it. They run spread,” he said. “They’ll give the twins looks and they’ll give a three by one look – things like that. But at the same time they are very comfortable getting into a power set. Power-I, straight-I, Pro-I set, I-twins – they’ll mix it up. They’ll go out of the shotgun and they will also operate under center. They do a lot of different things. It seems as though if something is working, they will run it until you stop it. If you don’t stop it, they will keep coming at you.”
Last week the Quincy Notre Dame attack featured quarterback Joe McCaughey completing 17 of 29 passes for 247 yards while also getting three rushing touchdowns more than 18 carries that netted 90 yards by running back Daylin Anders.
“Defense ... they will run a 4-4 or a 4-3 and will mix it up a bit. They are quick and can get to the ball and make plays,” Onsen said.
“Their DBs are also quick, so if they do make a mistake they can catch up to you quickly. That lets them be a little more aggressive sometimes on defense, and they can gamble more because they have the speed to make up for things. They have a very solid defense.”
Solid all the way around, it would seem.
“They are a physical team and they are also athletic. They are also quick,” Onsen said. “The schools I’ve seen them play look very good on film. They aren’t 8-1 for no reason. We’re just hoping to put the right preparation in here.”
The Coalers have been preparing for the past week, and the results seem to be positive.
“I think it’s been a pretty good week,” Cowherd said. “As soon as we knew who we were playing, coach got us film on them and since Monday we’ve been preparing as well as we can.”
Although kickoff for the Saturday game is at 1 p.m., the trip to Quincy is the better part of four and a half hours from Coal City. It’s a trip the Coalers aim to break up.
“This is something new for us. We’ve never taken a long trip like this before. At least not since I’ve been the coach,” Onsen said. “We’re going to split the trip up a little bit. We’re going to stop and spend the night and that way we can break things up. We’re going to go part of the way up there on Friday and then practice. Practice at Lincoln High School. Then we are going to spend the night and then leave for Quincy the next morning to be ready to play at 1 p.m.”
It’s an idea that seems to have gained traction with the team.
“[The trip] should have no effect on us,” Cowherd said. “Especially since we are driving there on Friday.”