The Amboy-LaMoille and Mercer County football programs each have a rich history of postseason success.
At 1 p.m. today, the traditional powers meet in Amboy for a Class 2A quarterfinal game.
“They’re a very good football team,” Amboy-LaMoille coach Gary Jones said. “They have a strong tradition from back when they were the Aledo Green Dragons and they’ve carried that tradition on.”
The Golden Eagles (11-0), who have been ranked No. 1 in the Class 2A Associated Press Poll all season, look to reach the semifinals for the 10th time, while the Clippers (9-2) are aiming to advance to the semifinals for the fifth time and their first since 1986.
“I think it’s one of the historic matchups in the area,” Mercer County coach Nat Zunkel said. “Amboy is in all respects a powerhouse. To be second place in that conference (the Big Rivers) to Sterling (Newman) is a tribute to them.”
The Golden Eagles and Clippers bring very different styles to the matchup.
Mercer County boasts a high-octane, pro-style offense that averages 46.1 points per game and has scored 42 or more points seven times.
“They’ve scored a lot of points this year. Their offense is very potent,” Jones said. “They can score on big plays. Their quarterback throws the ball very well. They have two very good outside receivers. They have a good, solid running game. They can get back in the I-formation and pound it straight at you, too. They’re pretty well balanced. I don’t know which (run game or pass game) is the worst of two evils there.”
Quarterback Tanner Matlick has throw for 1,478 yards and 19 touchdowns with just three interceptions on 88-of-142 passing. He’s also rushed for eight scores.
Last week, Matlick completed 16-of-21 passes for 305 yards and three touchdowns and added a rushing touchdown in a 42-14 victory over Rockford Lutheran.
Matlick’s top two targets are Payton Holmes (459 yards, 9 TDs) and Tyson Nylin (424 yards, 6 TDs).
Zach Nelson paces the running game with 779 yards and 12 touchdowns, while twins Jesse and Logan Snyder contribute as well as they’ve combined for 1,164 yards and 20 scores.
In the second round, the Golden Eagles scored on several big plays — a 75-yard screen pass to Nelson, a 57-yard pass to Holmes and a 33-yard pass to Nylin.
“You can probably define us as a big play-type offense,” said Zunkel, whose team has not scored less than 25 points in a game this season. “The wide receivers have been doing a nice job. We have four kids who average over 20 yards per catch and two more over 15 yards a catch. It’s pretty exciting when we get in the swing of the game and get moving.”
Jones said the Clippers have to be disciplined on defense to prevent big plays.
“A lot of the time, big plays are from cutbacks and those types of things,” Jones said. “We have to make sure we stay in our pursuit lanes, get lined up correctly on defense and recognize their formations and what we think they’re going to run out of those formations.”
Offensively, the Clippers have added a few formations but for the most part will stick with their bread and butter — the option and power run plays.
“Our line took control of that game (last week in a 43-18 win over Orion in the second round),” Jones said. “We were able to run the ball. Whether that’s going to happen this week, I don’t know. We’ll have to test their defense out a little bit and see what we can do. Our goal is to go in and run the ball. That’s what we do. We run the power plays and the option. If we can get those things working, obviously we’ll just stick to those things. If they come try to shut those down and give us something else, we’ll take that, too.”
The Golden Eagles run a three-man front similar to what the Clippers saw last week against Orion.
Like its offense, Mercer County’s defense has been strong all season as it has limited opponents to just 6.5 points per game.
The Golden Eagles, who have forced 31 turnovers while committing just four, have shut out five opponents and has not allowed more than 20 points in a game.
“We have to be good tacklers between the tackles,” Zunkel said. “Their mid-line and option plays give us a little bit of trouble. We have to play very good, responsibility-based football.”
With another traditionally strong program coming to Amboy for a quarterfinal game, people are getting excited in town.
“The school is pretty hyped up over this and the community always gets excited over football here in Amboy,” Jones said. “I think it should be a good game. I think we match up pretty well as far as personnel.”
Kevin Chlum can be reached at 220-6939, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsEditor.