MURPHYSBORO — When Murphysboro hits Bencini Field Saturday for its 3 p.m. Class 4A second-round game against top-seeded Illinois Valley Central, the Red Devils aren’t just playing for the right to advance to the quarterfinals.
They’re also playing for history and legacy, which this program hasn’t had the chance to enrich to this extent since 1988. That’s when they made their only trip past the second round, reaching the 4A semifinals.
“There’s no doubt it would mean a lot for our players and the community,” Murphysboro coach Gary Carter said. “It’s been a while since it happened, and it would be great for our kids. Plus you have the possibility of another home game.
“But at this point, any time you can play in the playoffs, it’s a good thing. You just want to have a chance to play the next week.”
And a deep dive into this matchup suggests the Red Devils (8-2) might have a better chance to hold practice on Monday than the seeding discrepancy suggests. While they are the ninth seed, they showed again in a 20-14 first round win last week at Bethalto Civic Memorial that they have the tools to win multiple November games.
Taking advantage of a tackle box that frequently had nine and 10 men stacked in it, quarterback Jamarr McZeke threw for 145 yards and two touchdowns. That included a 29-yard scoring strike to Hunter Meade early in the fourth quarter for the game-winner.
McZeke has always thrown a pretty ball, but Murphysboro is much more capable of doing damage now in the air than it could the last two years. Its receivers create separation and make catches, and its offensive line gives McZeke time.
“In our offense, you need to have (balance),” Carter said. “We want to throw it when we want to, not on 3rd and 15 when it’s not so effective. If they put nine or 10 in the box, you have to throw it and make them respect it.
“It all clicked for us last week. Some of our passes are like counters as well; they keep people off-balance. You throw it when they don’t expect you to.”
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Civic Memorial keyed on senior halfback Dezmond Clark and kept him in check, but the Red Devils still managed 234 yards rushing. The likes of Jake Hoppenstedt, Aiden McNitt, Kevin Kirkwood and Zane Caraway took up slack.
Murphysboro’s defense has allowed only 43 points since a season-opening 32-29 loss against Carbondale, registering four shutouts and not allowing a point in 18 straight quarters. But it will get a test from the 10-0 Grey Ghosts.
IVC is averaging 37.7 points per game behind quarterback Alex Merlo (6-2, 200, sr.), running back Michael Arnold (5-8, 170, sr.) and wide receiver Alex Fulton (6-2, 170, sr.).
“They are around 60 percent run and 40 percent pass, so they are pretty balanced,” Carter said. “They have some deception in their offense, and they have good kids. You don’t get to be 10-0 without good kids.”
The Grey Ghosts didn’t have quite as easy a time as a top seed usually has in the first round, holding off Taylorville 31-22. It was their closest game since a 21-20 decision at Tolono Unity in Week 1.
Now IVC faces a hungry opponent and a lengthy bus ride in the second round.
“To play in front of your home crowd with no travel is obviously a huge benefit,” Carter said. “They have to come four hours and that makes it difficult. We get to play in front of our families. This is huge for our community.”
In a Class 2A second round matchup, Nashville visits Bismarck-Henning for a 2 p.m. start. The Hornets (9-1) are coming off a 35-0 blanking of Villa Grove-Heritage last week behind 293 passing yards from prolific junior Cole Malawy.