The plot thickens.

Three very interesting games are on the slate this Friday. Regardless of what, if anything, happens during the national anthem at any of the games, each is plenty interesting in its own right.

Rock Island at Quincy

Fans may look back at the end of the season and say this was the game that decided it all. Both teams come in 3-1 and 1-0 in the Western Big 6 with each team’s only loss to 4-0 Edwardsville, which is ranked No. 7 in this week’s AP poll  in Class 8A.

For comparison sake, the Blue Devils lost their season opener at home 35-6 to Edwardsville. One week later, the Rocks lost to Edwardsville 48-27 on the road.

They also both played Alton with the Rocks beating the now 0-4 club 38-13 in its season and home opener while the Blue Devils beat Alton in week 2, 35-21, at Alton. By the time the season is over, both Quincy and Rock Island will have six common foes, plus they play each other. 

Quincy’s two running backs alone rushed for 249 yards against Galesburg last week in a 31-17 road win. Everyone up here knows the Rocks have a balanced attack led by dual threat QB Alek Jacobs and his running back tandem of DeAngelo Horne and Tavion Brooks.

Quincy is led by its running backs. Last week sophomore Jirehl Brock rushed for 141 yards on 19 carries vs. the Streaks, including a 42-yard TD run. Deven Smith rushed for 108 yards on 21 carries, including a 9-yard TD run. The Blue Devils did use the old hook-and-ladder play to score on the Streaks right before halftime. And a failed on-sides kick to start the second half led help set up Brock’s long TD run.

Quincy is super tough at home with Edwardsville stopping a regular season win streak of 15 straight at Flinn Stadium. So expect this to be a very tough game.

Rocky coach Bryan Stortz expects to see a physical Quincy team that has plenty of talent at the skill positions. He believes the keys to the game are Rock Island’s offensive balance, stopping the Blue Devils on the ground and creating turnovers while taking care of the ball themselves. I have not seen Quincy play, but I would expect this to be a good one. It probably helps that the Rocks played Edwardsville on the road already this year, which was also a long trip. If the Rocks play their game and avoid turnovers, they can prevail. But expect both teams to put some points on the board.

Galesburg at Moline

The Maroons (2-2) are on a roll. They’ve scored 104 points in the last nine quarters they have played. QB Eric Maffie has an arm and seems to be growing into his role which includes running some option. And the Maroons could get QB Brock Bertelli back this week, and he’s more of a running threat. Moline also has huge junior running back Marcus Atnip in the backfield nicely balanced by Ladji Diallo, who has some speed.

Then there’s the matter of a talented wide receiver corps. Marcellus Johnson and David Xique who have now been rejoined by the no longer secret weapon of Alijah Cortez. All’s Cortez did after two weeks off due to a team violation was score on two touchdown pass receptions, one covering 30 yards, against United Township.  The Maroons are blossoming and are quickly becoming the one team you don’t want to face, no matter who you are.

Moline coach Mike Tracey’s biggest concern is his defense, which will be tested by the Streaks. The Streaks had two scoring drives that lasted more than 10 plays last year in a 21-14 win over Moline. “We can’t allow them to stay on the field that long,” Tracey said. “If we do, we lose”

But Tracey is hoping his own offense makes a difference this year. “We didn’t put enough pressure on them with our offense (last year),” he said. “Hopefully, we can change that this year.”

Interesting stat: Both teams foes in their first four games have gone 7-9.  Moline is 1-0 in the Big Six after last week, while the Streaks are 0-1.

“With where this falls in our conference, and this time on the schedule, it is really critical,” Tracey said. “We are both fighting for our lives. It will be a war.”

UT at Alleman

Both teams are 0-4 and looking for their first win of the season. Both showed some promise in the first half last week, especially the Pioneers, who actually led Rock Island 12-6 in the second quarter and only trailed 13-12 at half. UT did lead Moline 7-0 before the Maroons scored 28 points in the second quarter, three of the TDs coming on pass plays.

Both UT and Alleman did, however, give up 40 points last week. And it’s worth noting that Alleman’s four foes have a 14-2 record while UT’s are 8-8. Both also have different starting quarterbacks than they began the season with. UT is going with junior Bobby Neal, while the Pioneers have sophomore Sam Mattecheck. Both started last week. And Neal has started two straight, while Mattecheck played in relief of senior Jack Fernandez, who went out with an injury in game three vs. Sterling.  

If either of these QBs can put together a good game, well supported by some quality defense, their club can walk off Lindberg Stadium in celebration for the first time this season.

Key stat:  The Pioneers did have 334 yards rushing against Rock Island last week. UT had just 113 against Moline.

Other factors: It’s the Pioneers’ homecoming game. Will they be more fired up or more distracted. It could be another key.

It’s the same approach for the Pioneers, even if it would seem victory is more possible this week for both UT and Alleman. “It’s a busy week,”Alleman coach Todd Depoorter said alluding to homecoming. “We are not approaching the game any differently. We want to compete in every game that we play. We want to make sure that we are doing the things we are supposed to be doing.”

Depoorter said he saw improvement in tackling and hitting last week. “That continues to be our push,” he said. Depoorter believes moving the football and controlling the line of scrimmage will be keys for the Pioneers this week, as they are every week, he said. It’s worth noting the Pioneers had two 16-play drives and one 15-play drive against Rock Island. One drive was stopped at the 11. Another resulted in a missed field goal right before halftime. And one was a 16-play 81-yard scoring drive.

Depoorter said another key is not giving up big plays on defense. Last week, Rock Island had four scoring plays of 20 yards or more. All TDs were on the ground, including runs of 80, 79 and 45 yards.

UT coach Joe Morrissey expects the Pioneers to fight for the win all four quarters. “They are fundamentally sound. They are disciplined and they don’t quit easy,” he said. He also believes he’s seeing improvement in his Panthers. “I think progress is being made every day here, even though it does not always show itself in the end,” he said.   

Two turnovers and two fourth-down plays hurt the Panthers last week, he noted. “We’ve had a good week of practice so far,” Morrissey said. “Our kids are excited. We got to go out and compete every day. Friday’s another opportunity for that.”