Cougars try to lock down playoff berth at Mercer County Friday

Prior to last Friday night’s home finale with Stark County, Mid-County head coach Gary Denhart said he was still looking for his team to put together a complete football game.

Asked and received.

Fittingly on Senior Night, the senior-heavy Mid-County roster dominated for four quarters as the Cougars blanked the Rebels 27-0 to become playoff eligible.

“Yes. Yes we did,” Denhart replied moments after the win when asked if his team achieved that elusive complete game. “You just keep building and we got it tonight.”

“Offensively, things seemed to click and that was the defense that we played against Princeville,” Denhart added. “That was the offense we’ve seen at times, and hey, what a nice time to get it.”

The driving force behind the Mid-County offense was senior running back Cooper Hoxworth. He accounted for all four M-C touchdowns and that was more than enough cushion for the Cougar defense. The M-C defenders forced four Stark County turnovers, including a pair of interceptions by senior cornerback Isaac Cordle.

Hoxworth’s first touchdown came on a 26-yard run at the 3:57 mark of the opening quarter. He added a 1-yard plunge early in the second quarter as the Cougars led 13-0 at the break.

Quarterback Jacob Varner had a hand in the third score, connecting with Hoxworth on a 10-yard TD pass to extend the margin to 20-0.

Cordle’s second interception of the night set up the game’s final score — a 12-yard run by Hoxworth.

Hoxworth finished with 111 yards on 13 carries, and Varner added 56 yards on the ground.

“We have a big senior group and they took it upon themselves to come together as a team,” Denhart said. “We may not have two or three of the athletes that we had last year, but look at this team. We’ve rotated more players and it’s just a better all-around effort.”


Playoff Bubble

The Cougars hope to go from playoff eligible to playoff lock with a Week 9 win at Mercer County Friday night. Both teams enter at 5-3 and the Golden Eagles are licking their wounds after a 35-7 loss at the hands of unbeaten Princeville.

In the latest Playoff Outlook released by the IHSA this week, the Cougars have 32 playoff points — the total number of wins accumulated by the teams on your schedule. 

Steve Soucie, sports editor of the Joliet Herald-News, annually projects what the IHSA playoff pairings will look like in all eight classes and he believes nearly all of the 37-point 5-4 teams will make the postseason and the 36-point 5-4 teams will be on the outside looking in. 

A win at Aledo cements Mid-County’s place in the Class 3A playoff field, while a loss will make for a nervous Saturday night as the IHSA reveals the brackets.

No matter the outcome Friday night, the Cougars will rise to 36 points by virtue of four wins by Lincoln Trail Conference teams. If the Cougars fall at Aledo, they become huge fans of Elmwood-Brimfield and Peoria Heights-Quest Academy. Elmwood-Brimfield (6-2) plays undefeated Illini West and winless Peoria Heights meets a 2-6 Abingdon-Avon squad.


First win over 

Stark County

Friday night’s game was the ninth meeting between the Mid-County co-op and Stark County, and the first win for the Cougars in the series.

In the previous eight meetings, Stark County outscored Mid-County 308-68.


M-C by the numbers

The Cougars finished with 236 yards of total offense against Stark County, including 180 on the ground, with Hoxworth and Varner accounting for 167 of those yards.

Through the air, Varner went 4 of 7 for 56 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Hoxworth also was the leading receiver with two catches for 50 yards.

Varner topped the defensive tackle chart with five stops. Parker Taylor, Trenton Welsh and Gunner Spivey added four tackles each.

Welsh also had a fumble recovery, while Payton Haynes added an interception.


Around the LTC 

Princeville clinched at least a share of the Lincoln Trail Conference title with its 35-7 win over Mercer County. Also Friday night, Annawan-Wethersfield became playoff eligible by holding off West Central 22-14 and Ridgewood also became playoff eligible by handling United 45-14.

Conference and overall records in the LTC are Princeville 6-0/8-0, Annawan-Wethersfield 5-1/5-3, Mercer County 4-2/5-3, Mid-County 4-2/5-3, Ridgewood 3-3/5-3, Stark County 2-4/3-5, United 0-6/0-8 and West Central 0-6/0-8.

The final week of the regular season finds Mid-County at Mercer County, Princeville at Ridgewood, Annawan-Wethersfield at Stark County and United at West Central.


LTC fresh-soph results, standings

Results from Monday night’s Lincoln Trail Conference fresh-soph action find Stark County rolling Mid-County 46-0, Ridgewood blanking United 34-0, Princeville handling Mercer County 40-14 and West Central defeating Annawan-Wethersfield 30-12.

Conference and overall records in the LTC are Princeville 6-0/8-0, Ridgewood 5-1/6-2, West Central 4-2/6-2, Mercer County 4-2/5-3, United 2-4/4-4, Stark County 2-4/3-5, Annawan-Wethersfield 1-5/1-7, Mid-County 0-6/0-8.

Monday’s regular season finales are highlighted by the title showdown of Ridgewood at Princeville. Also it’s Mercer County at Mid-County, West Central at United and Stark County at Annawan-Wethersfield.