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Prep Notebook

Prep Sports Notebook | Nashville football has gotten bigger, stronger

Nashville football coach Stephen Kozuszek in team huddle

Nashville football coach Stephen Kozuszek addresses his team huddle following a 47-22 victory over Anna-Jonesboro in a SIRR-Mississippi Conference matchup on Sept. 17.

On Oct. 13, 2017, Nashville traveled to Du Quoin for a SIRR Mississippi football game that turned very ugly very fast. The Hornets trailed 21-0 after a quarter and 35-0 at halftime en route to a 56-13 loss that, truthfully, wasn’t that close.

After the game, first-year coach Stephen Kozuszek’s first thoughts were about the future and what his players needed to do in the offseason.

“We’re going to have to get into the weight room and get bigger and stronger,” he said.

Fast-forward to Friday night. Five years into the job, Kozuszek has done what he set out to do, as revealed by a 49-13 rout of Carterville in a conference showdown that also wasn’t quite as close as the final score.

All that stopped Nashville from blowing it open in the first half were its mistakes. A few penalties here, a missed tackle or two there on a short pass that became a 67-yard touchdown and a potential 28-0 halftime lead was just 14-7.

But the Hornets eliminated the errors and wasted no time blowing a good team off the field in the second half. They scored on their first five possessions while unleashing a fierce pass rush that kept the Lions from making any kind of comeback.

It was the kind of half that displayed the Hornets’ considerable potential to make a postseason run. Their offense can run or throw with equal skill and a defense that starts 11 seniors is quite capable of forcing an offense to be one-dimensional.

“Our defense was absolutely fantastic tonight,” two-way starter Isaac Turner said. “They absolutely could not run the ball against us. We were worried about the passing game, but the DBs did a good job not letting anyone get behind them.

“I think they got worn down by us going quick on offense, and when we were on defense, we were able to get to the quarterback.”

Nashville played for a Class 2A title in 2019, losing 35-14 to Sterling Newman in a game marked by its four turnovers. If it can stay healthy and continue to minimize mistakes, there’s no reason it can’t earn a repeat trip to DeKalb over Thanksgiving weekend.

FIRST TO SIX

Benton’s 30-7 win Friday night over Harrisburg enabled the Rangers to become the first Southern Illinois team to officially clinch a playoff spot. At this point, they are playing for the best postseason seed it can get.

Benton will be a big favorite this week against Massac County and in its regular season finale Oct. 22 at Anna-Jonesboro. A trip to Murphysboro in two weeks is probably all that stands between the Rangers and a 9-0 mark.

It was fitting that Benton’s defense made the key play, even though it allowed a touchdown for the first time since a 23-6 win over Carterville in Week 1. Wyatt Upton’s sack of Ben Gulley in the end zone for a fourth quarter safety sparked a run of 16 unanswered points that sealed the verdict.

LOCALS IN COLLEGE

Murphysboro product Drew Stokes is about to become the second player in Colorado College of Mines history to record 4,000 career assists. The senior setter is at 3,918 heading into weekend home matches against Adams State and New Mexico Highlands.

Stokes distributed 49 assists Saturday in a 3-1 win at Fort Lewis, extending the Orediggers’ best-ever start to 13-1. They are ranked No. 8 in Division II.

Chloe Britton (Fairfield) has played in eight matches for Division II Lincoln Memorial University (Tenn.), averaging 12.9 assists per match. Britton’s best match was Sept. 21 at King (Tenn.), where she collected 25 assists and 20 digs in a 3-2 loss.

If King sounds familiar to Southern Illinois prep fans, it might be because Carbondale product Alli Ragan wrestled there for four years before winning two silver medals at the world championships in 2016 and 2017. Ragan is now a graduate assistant at NAIA member Grand View (IA).

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