With two weeks left in the regular season, the Black Diamond Conference two-time defending champion Fairfield is sitting on top undefeated, but with the two contenders only a game behind, the stakes couldn’t be higher when the Mules host second place Eldorado on Friday.
“Their community loves their football just like ours, so it will be a good atmosphere with implications on the line,” said Eldorado coach Joe Clark. “It’s two good ballclubs, so it will come down to five or six plays. Whoever makes those plays will probably win.”
Fairfield (7-0) winds up the regular season at Sesser-Valier-Waltonville (6-1), which is currently tied with Eldorado. The Red Devils play at Vienna-Goreville (1-6) this week, while Eldorado hosts Johnston City (2-5) next week.
“This is essentially for the conference championship right here,” said Fairfield coach Justin Townsend. “Obviously with Sesser week nine, these next two weeks will determine who’s going to win the conference. We thought this was a possibility all year and we hoped we’d be in the situation we’re at right now.”
Eldorado has to win this week to remain in the hunt for the conference title, while Fairfield could lose and still end up as co-champs by beating S-V-W next week. The same scenario fits if Fairfield wins this week and loses next week.
“For now, this is for first place,” Clark said. “For the past few years we’ve been two of the better teams in the league, and it seems it always comes down to the last two weeks. The reality is you hope to get a few breaks, play well and find out on that particular night who the better team is.”
Fairfield won the conference outright last season, going 9-0, and tied for the title with Eldorado the year before after the Eagles were the lone conference champions in 2015. Last year, Eldorado finished third, behind S-V-W.
Since 2004, Fairfield leads the series 8-6, but the Mules have won only twice over the last eight games, including 14-8 last year at Eldorado.
Fairfield is coming off a 40-6 win over Vienna-Goreville on the road. The Mules jumped out to a 16-0 lead in the first quarter and took a 40-0 lead at the half, out-gaining the Eagles 324 to 63.
“Last week it was pretty warm for an October Saturday, and I thought our kids responded really well and played a really good first half,” Townsend said. “Our mindset going into that game was to set the tone for the last two weeks of the regular season and going into the playoffs.”
Fullback Dylan Heifner led the game with 182 yards rushing on 12 carries, including touchdown runs of three, four and five yards. Running back Reese Lee finished with 50 yards rushing on nine carries with two six-yard touchdown runs. Wyatt Gilbert added 89 yards on six carries that included a 60-yard run on the first play of the game.
Defensively, the Mules held the Eagles to 118 yards rushing on 18 carries and 69 yards passing on 5-of-11 passes, in addition to forcing two fumbles and one interception.
Eldorado (6-1) is coming off a 24-6 win over Edwards County on the road.
“Last week we went on the road and had success against a good ballclub,” Clark said. “Offensively, we got to a great start setting the tone, running downhill. We made plays when we needed to make plays in the passing game, so we were real pleased.”
The Eagles gained 284 yards on offense with 18 first downs, converting 8-of-11 third down and 1-of-2 fourth down opportunities. Defensively, the Eagles gave up just 112 total yards, including 94 yards rushing on 32 carries.
Eldorado fell behind early when the Lions marched 64 yards on 19 plays to score to take a 6-0 lead. The Eagles matched that drive and more, going 96 yards in over eight minutes with Dawson Metten scoring on a one-yard run. After the two-point conversion, the Eagles led, 8-6, and never looked back.
Metten led the Eagles with 96 yards rushing on 21 carries with touchdown runs of one, four and five yards. Jace Jenkins rushed for 69 yards on nine carries and caught one pass for 25 yards. Clayton Dennis added 38 yards rushing on eight carries.
Quarterback Aiden Whitlock completed 5-of-11 passes for 77 yards with one interception. Joe Mayberry was the leading receiver with three catches for 42 yards with Jeremy Boulds finishing with one catch for 10 yards.