A look at the Fieldcrest-West Carroll playoff contest

    Fieldcrest missed the playoffs last year primarily because of what was lost from the season before. There was a lot of inexperience, especially in key positions.
    Head coach Derek Schneeman and his Knights took their lumps, finished 3-6 and stayed home.
    The Knights will be staying home this season, as well, only under more favorable circumstances. Fieldcrest finished its regular season 7-2 and will be hosting West Carroll in the first round of the Class 2A playoffs Saturday afternoon at Veterans Park.
    “It is huge for our younger guys to have a home playoff game,” Schneeman said. “We have a number of juniors, sophomores and freshmen that are contributing at key spots for us, so to be able to compete at home this week, especially after going 3-6 last season, is a tribute to our guys and how hard they’ve worked in the offseason.”
    West Carroll is a team not to be taken lightly. The Thunder finished 6-3 this season while playing in the rugged Northwest Upstate Illini Conference. The Thunder has scored 235 points this season while allowing just 107.
    The Thunder will need to run the ball, but there seems to be a variety of looks that will be given, and passing will be a factor. Schneeman said that West Carroll will run out of the “I” but has spread things out with four- and five-wide sets.
    “We’ll need to contain their running game first and foremost to be successful on defense,” Schneeman said. “The key for us will be limiting their running game to make them more one dimensional.”
    Kaleb Hartman appears to be the main running back with Kaleb Plattenberger also being a weapon. Quarterback Kody Plattenberger runs the offense.
    “We are a balanced offense between the run and pass game, we look to take of advantage of what the defense gives us,” West Carroll head coach Matthew Leitzen said.
    Fieldcrest has been prone to giving up points while relying on a potent offense. The Knights pitched shutouts against Flanagan-Cornell-Woodland and Heyworth, and Ridgeview managed just one score. The other six opponents has scored at least two touchdowns against them.
    “From what we have seen they put a lot of guys in the box and are pretty good at shutting run game down,” Leitzen said of FHS. “I think their DBs cover the deep ball well and they play with a lot of energy. We will need to make plays when given the chance.”
    When the Knights have the ball, West Carroll will be concerned with Cam Grandy. The “Grandy Man” is the main weapon, leading the Knights in rushing and passing, but not the only one in the FHS arsenal.
    “I think they have a really nice quarterback who is a big part of their run game,” Leitzen said. “He also throws the ball very well on the run. We will need to be able to cover receivers and provide a pass rush to make him uncomfortable. We will have to wrap up and make sure we limit his big plays.”
    If Grandy is able to find receivers, he has quality kids in Derek May (who has been sidelined of late), Jaxon Cusac-McKay and Mike Morse. Micah Hurd has been banged up a bit, leaving Friday’s game early.
    “West Carroll runs a 3-4 base,” Schneeman said. “They’re not big all around but they are very physical and fly to the football. They’ve done a good job all year of staying low and using their leverage to compete against teams with more size.
    “We’ll need to match their physicality up front and play low to have success in the running game. The key for us will be to establish the running game early.”
    This game will come down to line play and turnovers. The Knights will also be looking to finish off drives.
    “We’ll need to take care of the football, limit our mistakes and win the battles on the offensive and defensive lines to advance to the second round,” Schneeman said. “They are a senior-laden team, so I don’t anticipate them having a lot of miscues. If we can do those things, we’ll have a great chance at winning.”
    As for the Thunder, it’s a long drive to get to Minonk from Savanna. That might be an advantage, but there are other factors that will come into play.
    “Often, these games come down to who makes the least amount of mistakes,” Leitzen said. “We will need to play a disciplined game on both sides of the ball. Scoring when in the red zone will be key to our offense, and limiting their chances in the red zone on defense.”
    Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. The winner will meet the victor of the Eastland-at-GCMS contest in Gibson City. Either way, should the Knights move on, they will be on the road in the second round.