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La Salle-Peru senior defensive back Billy Vickers said Friday’s game against Ottawa is “the biggest game of most of our lives so far.”
It’s a critical game for Vickers and the Cavaliers for two reasons.
No. 1, La Salle-Peru must win in order to keep its playoff hopes alive.
No. 2, the Cavs are looking to end a six-game losing streak to the rival Pirates not counting Ottawa’s 2009 forfeit due to a teacher’s strike.
“That would mean a lot,” Vicker said about getting a win over Ottawa. “It would be a big win for our program. … It’d be nice to get a big win, especially being underdogs.”
The Cavs (3-4, 2-1 Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference West Division) will be underdogs when the Pirates (7-0, 3-0 NIB 12 West) come to Howard Fellows Stadium for a conference game at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Ottawa moved up to No. 7 in the Class 6A Associated Press poll after beating Dixon 56-14 last week.
“In our locker room, we’re focusing on us, what we need to do and our belief system,” L-P coach Joe Sassano said. “Really, right now, that’s all that matters because if you step outside our locker room, basically nobody is giving us a chance. We cannot listen to that or buy into any of that. We just have to believe in ourselves and each other.”
The Pirates are expecting L-P to give its best effort Friday.
“Obviously, we want to keep (the streak) going. It’s a big rival. We know each other,” Ottawa senior Michael Hermosillo said. “It’s definitely somewhat of a bragging rights-type deal. They’re going to be fired up. It’s their Senior Night and their last home game. I think they’re going to be fired up so we’re going to have to bring our ‘A’ game. Last year, they upset Geneseo, so we’re definitely not going to take them lightly at all.”
If the Cavs hope to end their losing streak to Ottawa, they’ll have to do a better job defending Hermosillo after the University of Illinois recruit ran for a then school-record 280 yards and three touchdowns against L-P.
Hermosillo, who Sassano calls “probably the best player in the conference,” has dominated opposing defenses this season, running for an area-best 1,333 yards and 23 touchdowns and twice scoring five touchdowns in a game.
“Coach (Pat) Carney and coach (Jose) Medina have worked diligently over the weekend and early this week watching a lot of film and trying to devise some sort of plan where we can put kids in position to hopefully make plays,” Sassano said. “We know it’s going to have to be a gang effort. It cannot be one guy trying to bring Hermosillo down. We have to have multiple people there, we have to be able to wrap up and take the proper pursuit angles.”
While Hermosillo is the focal point, Sassano, Hermosillo and Ottawa coach Trent Swords are quick to point out the Pirates have many other weapons.
“(Hermosillo’s) one of our important weapons and we like to try to get him going, but he certainly isn’t our only option,” Swords said. “Everyone in the backfield is going to need to be ready to contribute. If they are able to contribute, I think we’re pretty hard to defend against. We look to get a lot of kids involved, spread the all around, spread the field and try to find some weaknesses we can take advantage of.”
The Pirate defense will look to slow down L-P’s potent passing attack that has racked up 812 yards and 11 touchdowns in two wins over the last two weeks.
L-P quarterback Zack Cinotto leads the area in passing with 1,388 yards, including 722 in the last two weeks.
“I think the key for us is to get them in second-and-long and third-and-long situations where our defensive ends — Cyrano (Rayfield), Diego (Martinez) and Cahill (Horner) — coming off the edge get an opportunity to pin their ears back and go after Zack,” Hermosillo said. “I think the biggest key is just to get them in passing situations so they can’t use the play-action as much and try to limit the deep ball.”
Swords expects it to be another good L-P vs. Ottawa game.
“I expect L-P to put its best foot forward. As their record indicates, this is a playoff game for them and they want to play as well as they can to keep their playoff hopes alive,” Swords said. “That kind of pales in comparison to the simple fact that it’s the L-P-Ottawa game, and both teams are really excited about playing one another and trying to have one of those great L-P-Ottawa games some of these guys have seen when they were younger and have heard about from their parents and grandparents.”
Kevin Chlum can be reached at 220-6939, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsEditor.
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