When Benton travels to Murphysboro Friday night to play for the SIRR Ohio regular season title, a playoff berth won’t be on the line. Both teams are assured of a Week 10 no matter what happens at Bencini Field.
But Rangers coach Justin Groves and Red Devils coach Gary Carter agree that both teams can benefit from meeting a playoff-caliber opponent this close to the postseason.
“Win or lose, it’s a good test and it’s good timing with a couple of weeks left until the playoffs,” Groves said. “If we can win the conference, it should give us a little bit of confidence. Regardless, we should be primed for what week 10 holds.”
Some might argue that few teams could use a test more than Benton (7-0, 4-0). All their wins have come by at least 17 points and just two of their games have occurred against winning teams.
Only three of the 34 unbeaten teams remaining in Illinois have played opponents with fewer wins than the 23 by Ranger foes. The only unbeaten whose defeated opponents own fewer victories than Benton’s 14 is Chicago Amundsen with 12.
The Rangers’ schedule is probably the biggest reason why writers around the state continue to leave them out of the Class 3A top 10 most weeks. But Carter professed amusement Wednesday night that some think his team should be favored to win this game.
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“They’re the defending champions with the returning player of the year,” he said. “I don’t know how they can be the underdog when they’re unbeaten and they’ve allowed just 25 points all year. As far as I’m concerned, we have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”
If Murphysboro (6-1, 4-0) is to do what no one has come close to doing this year, it has to find a way to slow down Benton’s prolific pass-catch combo of Keegan Glover to Reid Baumgarte.
Glover’s 269 yards in last week’s 48-12 rout of Massac County gave him 4,329 for his career, the most in school history. Baumgarte has crushed the school record for most touchdown receptions in a year with 12.
Through seven games, Glover is 94 of 127 for 1,401 yards with 19 touchdowns and just two interceptions while adding another 392 rushing yards and 10 scores.
“He extends a play so well that he finds time to get receivers open,” Carter said of Glover. “He has at least four seconds to throw most of the time. We have to cut that down to two or three if we can.”
The best way the Red Devils can contain Glover is to keep the Rangers’ offense on the sideline. Murphysboro’s Wing-T running game has steadily improved as its young line has gained experience and confidence.
Calvon and Devon Clemons can break a big play any time they touch the ball, but the Red Devils’ best-case scenario this week might involve some time-consuming drives that limit the damage Benton’s offense can inflict.
“We have to play complementary football,” Carter said. “We have to put it all together as a team this week. It’d be nice to win and keep the momentum going, but we have to remember that we have another game next week and then we’re in the playoffs.”
That big-picture approach is one Groves is thinking about as well. He’s looking for the Rangers to continue to clean up things like occasional penalty trouble and some inconsistent execution inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.
No matter their record after next week’s game at Anna-Jonesboro or where they land for the postseason – 3A or 4A – Benton has to minimize mistakes.
“We are still not playing as well as we can, but I think we’re starting to clean things up at a good time,” Groves said. “We are starting to play more of a complete game. But no matter where you wind up for the playoffs, you’re going to play good teams.”