Erik Gens and the La Salle-Peru football team don’t need much motivation anytime they play rival Ottawa.
The fact, however, that the Cavaliers can play spoiler to Ottawa’s playoff hopes is just a little something extra.
L-P will travel to rival Ottawa at 7:30 p.m. Friday as — and despite the Pirates having five losses — L-P will look to put an end to Ottawa’s slim playoff hopes.
“It’s always the game that you circle on the map,” said Gens, L-P’s senior right tackle and defensive end. “After the game last Friday, everyone knew that it was Ottawa week. It’s always a game that sends a chill down your spine.
“The fact that they can still make the playoffs just adds to the rivalry. (Ending Ottawa’s playoff chance) would put the cherry on top of it.”
Despite entering with five losses, the Pirates still have an opportunity to make the playoffs but need help to do so.
Currently at 2-1 in the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference West Division, Ottawa could still finish at 4-1 and, if rival Streator can beat Geneseo on Friday, it’s still possible for a three-way 4-1 tie atop the NIB 12 West between Ottawa, Streator and Geneseo.
If the teams tie, the three-way tiebreaker for the conference’s automatic playoff berth would be come down to the fewest points allowed in the games between the three teams.
“We just talk about taking care of what we can take care of,” Ottawa coach Trent Swords said. “We are just trying to win this game, and if we can win this game, then we will talk about trying to win the next game. If we can do that, then we’ll look at where that puts us.
“We’ve been in situations before where we’ve lost a conference game, but yet hung around and got a conference title. Nothing is lost until it’s lost, and that’s what I keep reminding the kids every week.”
However, a Pirate loss Friday to the Cavs or next week at home against Sterling or a Geneseo victory Friday over Streator would end Ottawa’s playoff hopes.
“Obviously, the only thing we can control is winning out,” Ottawa senior quarterback Carter Krause said. “Coach has said, ‘Hey, this has to happen and this has to happen,’ but nothing matters unless we win out. If we lose one, it’s over, so that’s the main thing we’re focusing on. We’ll let the chips fall where they may and go from there.”
The first step is Friday’s game against L-P.
The Cavs are trying to earn their first non-forfeit victory over Ottawa since 2004 and know the Pirates feature a different look without graduated star running back Michael Hermosillo.
So far this season, Krause has thrown for 627 yards and nine touchdowns — three of which came last week to running back Joshua Williams — while junior running back Weston Hoffman has rushed for 298 yards and five TDs.
“They can’t hang their hat on just one guy,” L-P coach Joe Sassano said. “Last year, Hermosillo was their go-to guy. This year, they can go to a number of different people. We’re not going to be able to key on just one person. We’re going to have to be able to defend all 11.”
The Cavs (1-6, 0-3 NIB 12 West) are striving for their first win since a Week 4 victory over Yorkville.
L-P is led by senior quarterback Colby Sassano, who has thrown for 1,115 yards and five touchdowns, including 430 yards and two touchdowns this season to senior receiver Damion Allen as well as 88 yards and two TDs to senior receiver Logan Zeman last week against Streator.
“It’s special just because it’s a long-standing rivalry, but it’s another game on the schedule and we’re going to prepare for it just like we have for the other ones,” Swords said. “It’s the same preparation, but there is a different feel leading up to the game. There’s a different feel that night. There’s a little more electricity in the air when it’s that game as opposed to others. Ottawa and L-P is special without having to be or made to be special.”
Jared Bell can be reached at 220-6938, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.