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SPORTS | Prep Notebook: 3 teams that could go deep in the playoffs

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.

For the first time in two years, IHSA football teams will tee it up and kick it off for a postseason game on Friday night.

When Carmi-White County travels to Breese Mater Dei for a 7:15 kickoff, it will mark the first of 12 games involving Southern Illinois schools in the postseason. Each will aim to duplicate what Murphysboro and Nashville did in 2019 – make it to DeKalb for a shot at a state title.

While the Red Devils and Hornets lost in their bids for a championship, they at least upped the flagging profile of Southern Illinois football around the state. Who has the best chance of playing football on Thanksgiving weekend this fall?

Let’s look at three teams who appear to have the best combination of talent and draw:

1, Nashville, Class 2A – The Hornets are underseeded at No. 6 in the south despite an 8-1 record with the lone loss a nailbiter at a 7-2 Freeburg team that is a top four seed in 4A.

Nashville starts 11 seniors on defense and has the running game a team needs to succeed as the weather gets colder and wetter. It can also strike for big plays in the passing game with Isaac Turner, who has a catch radius roughly the size of Texas.

While 2A is stacked with unbeaten teams as the top four seeds, the Hornets have the talent to beat any of them.

2. Benton, Class 3A – Southern Illinois’ one unbeaten in the regular season, the Rangers earned a No. 3 seed. While some bang on them for a cushy schedule, bear in mind that Benton outscored the two winning teams it played – Carterville and Murphysboro – by a whopping 78-20.

This team has every tool you need offensively to put up big numbers. It can run or pass when required and has a quarterback in Keegan Glover that can make winning plays. The defense has allowed only 53 points all year.

Piasa Southwestern should be a win with a decent effort in the first round, but things ramp up from there. The sense is that the Rangers are eager to show the state how good they are.

3. Marion, Class 5A – The Wildcats appear to have learned from a Week 4 loss at Cahokia, rolling to five straight one-sided wins to enter the playoffs with an 8-1 mark and a fifth seed in the south.

Marion possesses balance on offense with Lukas Shrum keying an underrated ground game. Junior quarterback Evan Noelle has a record-setting receiver in Venson Newsom, but he has other targets as well.

If the defense continues playing at the level it’s displayed lately, the Wildcats have all the pieces in place to win multiple games in the postseason.

RAZOR’S EDGE

There’s close matches and then there’s what Johnston City and Sesser-Valier played Thursday night in their final Black Diamond Conference match of 2021 at Sesser.

This one lasted nearly 90 minutes before the Red Devils finally eked out a 26-24, 32-34, 25-22 victory. A total of 163 points, about double the number of some matches in the best 2-of-3 format IHSA schools use, were played.

Sesser-Valier served for the match four times in the second game, but the Indians fought off every one and then scored the last three points to force a decisive game. It may not have been to decide a conference title, but it can be argued that no two teams were more evenly matched this year than the Red Devils and Johnston City, at least on that night.

LOCALS IN COLLEGE

Drew Stokes (Murphysboro) continues to rack up impressive stats for the volleyball team at Division II Colorado College of Mines. She bagged 49 assists, eight digs and five aces Saturday in the Orediggers’ five-set loss at Regis in Denver.

Stokes is averaging nearly 12 assists per set and chipping in a solid .318 hitting percentage to go along with 27 aces, which is tied for the team league. Mines is ranked seventh in the country with a 17-3 record.

Megan Barton (Carterville) posted Sunday night on Twitter that she was joining Bradley’s women’s basketball program for the 2022-23 season. Barton is entering her sophomore year at Rend Lake, where she averaged 12.9 ppg last year and won Great Rivers Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year.

Maddie Misner (Carbondale) had seven kills and six digs Saturday for McKendree, but the Bearcats dropped a 3-0 decision to Southern Indiana in Lebanon. Misner has 199 digs and 89 kills in 20 matches. She’s averaged 10 kills in the last four matches.

bucky.dent@thesouthern.com

618-351-5086

On Twitter: @writingump

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