DU QUOIN — Prep football playoffs kick off today with a Class 3A matchup between the host Du Quoin Indians (8-1) and visiting Monticello Sages (6-3).
The Indians earned the No. 7 seed in their playoff bracket, as they prepare for what seems like another home game. The No. 10 seeded Sages will make the three-hour trip down Interstate 57, hoping to make another deep run in the playoffs after winning the state title a season ago.
Monticello plays in the highly competitive Illini Prairie Conference and has posted double-digit winning seasons in three of its last four years. Last season, the Sages finished a perfect 14-0, but now they find themselves sitting at 6-3 heading into Du Quoin to face a nearly perfect Indians football team.
“Monticello is a good football team,” said Du Quoin coach Derek Beard. “They play in a good football conference, and they’re defending state champions for a reason.”
The Sages have senior quarterback Nic Tackels under center with 30 combined touchdowns under his belt this season. Tackels is completing 54 percent of his passes, but has the ability to make plays with his legs, with 10 rushing touchdowns this season.
Tackels can either hand the ball off to junior running back Chris Brown or hit his big tight end Matt Kerr over the middle. Brown has rushed for 1,279 rushing yards with 14 total touchdowns, while Kerr has racked up 659 yards and five touchdowns during his senior campaign.
“They have a good quarterback, and he wants to run the ball,” said Beard. “We’ll need to find a way to contain him and keep him in the pocket.”
Beard compared Monticello’s offensive scheme to conference rival Nashville. Du Quoin was able to outlast Nashville two weeks ago in a 41-35 victory.
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“Our goal was to host a playoff game this season, and we accomplished that,” said Beard. “Our seniors are locked in and want to win in front of our home crowd.”
Du Quoin hopes to recover from last week’s 46-13 loss to Murphysboro. The Indians fell behind early and couldn’t recover in the second half, despite being the home team. Coach Beard hopes his team can turn the loss into a positive and return to form this weekend.
“We came off of a big game against Nashville and let our guard down,” said Beard. “Murphysboro is a good football team, but we’re using that loss to stay focused all week.”
Du Quoin came out of the Murphysboro loss with 4 or 5 players banged up. Senior Dalton Moore suffered a knee injury and is questionable for today's game. Moore has been a big presence on the offensive and defensive line and is a tough kid to replace.
The Indians are hopeful to have a couple of players return from injury this weekend.
“This team’s success goes all the way back to the off-seasons they put together,” said Beard. “They spent a lot of time working out and playing other sports to stay in shape. We have developed a program to make a deep run in the playoffs.
“The guys know they get another month of practice if they win three games in the playoffs, and we’re not ready to stop.”