The Western Big Six Conference champion(s) will be decided within the next 10 days and three teams have jumped out in front in the conference race with two weeks of league games remaining.
Galesburg remains the leader of the pack as the lone unbeaten team in the league and has a shot to clinch a share of the title in Week 7. Show of hands, who saw that coming before the season began?
Moline continues to turn heads after knocking off Rock Island and Quincy in back to back weeks to improve to 2-1 in the league and has a chance to win a title if it can stick to its winning ways and the Streaks slip up.
And though they’re having major issues stopping the run, the Rocks’ explosive offense and timely defense has them in position to move into a tie for first in the conference if they can win Friday at Galesburg.
All games this week are meaningful, whether in terms of conference title implications or teams fighting for their playoff lives. Here’s a look at an eventful slate of games for Week 7:
Rock Island (3-3, 2-1) at Galesburg (4-2, 3-0)
Last week: Rock Island 61, United Township 48; Galesburg 21, Alleman 0
Last year: Galesburg 35, Rock Island 19
Breakdown: This is a make-or-break game for the Rocks in the Big Six race coming off a close call last week at the Soule Bowl, while Galesburg’s defense has it in position to clinch at least a share of the league title for the second straight year.
Rocky’s defense stepped up when it had to against United Township to escape with a come-from-behind shootout victory Friday. Issues of shaky starts and porous run defense remain, but the Rocks’ offense is on fire led by quarterback Alek Jacobs and running back Tre Nimmers.
Nimmers had a monster game with 232 yards and five touchdowns while Jacobs ran for 127 yards and a score and threw for 126 with a touchdown as Rocky piled up 504 total yards. Jacob Ellis is emerging as a go-to receiver for Jacobs. A converted quarterback, Ellis had a sensational leaping one-handed catch on a two-point conversion and finished with five grabs for 63 yards.
The Rocks’ defense flicked a switch late in the third quarter with the team trailing 40-29, allowing for a 32-point run as Rocky overwhelmed UT down the stretch. Still, the Rocks allowed 530 rushing yards and 9.5 yards per carry. That won’t cut it most games and Rocky has now allowed an average of 371 rushing yards over its last five contests.
Rough starts also persist for the Rocks, though it didn’t take them long to get rolling against UT. Rocky had trailed by 14 points in the first half of each of its past three games heading into Week 6. It received the opening kick against UT on Friday and lost a fumble on its first play from scrimmage, allowing the Panthers to take a quick lead. The Rocks scored on their next drive and it was back-and-forth action from there.
Galesburg, meanwhile, is playing lights out on defense. The lights were literally out last week when the Silver Streaks and Pioneers had to wait for power to be restored at Lindberg Stadium before their game. When the lights came on, Galesburg proceeded to post its second consecutive shutout. The Silver Streaks made two goal-line stands, forced four turnovers and blocked a punt.
They say defense wins championships, and Galesburg is by far the leader in the league in terms of points allowed. The Silver Streaks have surrendered just 65 total points this season, an average of 10.8 points per game. Moline is second best in the league with 132 points allowed, an average of 22 points per game. The Streaks finish the Big Six slate playing two of the top three offenses in the league in Rocky and Quincy, so that defense will be tested.
The Streaks have a big offensive line, a good back in DeAndre Moren, a reliable QB in Jacob Ross and a versatile receiver in Nick Miyler. The Rocks will have to step up their game defensively while finding cracks in Galesburg’s steady defense to knock the Streaks off their perch at the top of the conference.
Moline (3-3, 2-1) at Alleman (2-4, 1-2)
Last week: Moline 33, Quincy 21; Galesburg 21, Alleman 0
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Last year: Alleman 20, Moline 16
Breakdown: The Pioneers’ backs are against the wall after back-to-back losses while the Maroons are in the thick of the title race after running over their last two opponents. Stakes are definitely high as the Pioneers look to win out to avoid snapping a string of five straight playoff appearances and the Maroons look to keep pace for their first league title since 2011.
The Maroons have gone from a team that’s known for turning the ball over and struggling offensively to one that dominates opponents with its ground attack and stands firm on defense within the span of two weeks. They’ve piled up a combined 797 rushing yards in wins over Rock Island and Quincy after being held to under 150 total yards in their loss to Galesburg. It’s been quite a turnaround, led by an ever-improving offensive line and the running of Shaq Davis, Quayshawn Wilson and Tyler Womack.
The defense held Quincy, the top scoring offense in the conference, scoreless in the second half as the Maroons pulled away. Moline has now held both Rock Island and Quincy at least 10 points below their season averages.
Coach Mike Tracey’s teams at Alleman and United Township achieved success with the formula of strong running attacks and steadfast defense, and now his Moline squad is showing similar traits. He has the Maroons believing they can be conference champions and they’re playing like it.
Alleman, meanwhile, has been shaky the past two weeks. After getting throttled by Quincy 63-20, the Pioneers were shut out for the first time since the 2006 playoffs in their 21-0 loss to Galesburg. They were right on the doorstep to score against the Streaks but were stopped at the one-yard line on two separate drives and also had four turnovers.
The Pioneers have been known for their execution during their string of success but it has failed them the past two weeks. For the season, Alleman is last in the conference in scoring offense (21.7 ppg) and second to last in scoring defense (28.2 ppg). They’re in danger of their first losing season since 2002 if they don’t run the table in their final three games against Moline (3-3), rival Rock Island (3-3) and Burbank St Lawrence (4-2). The last two games are on the road.
Quincy (3-3, 1-2) at United Township (1-5, 0-3)
Last week: Moline 33, Quincy 21; Rock Island 61, United Township 48
Last year: Quincy 37, United Township 14
Breakdown: The Blue Devils looked invincible in their win over Alleman, but a week later they were pushed around in an upset loss to Moline and now must win two of their last three games to become playoff eligible. The final two games are against Big Six-leading Galesburg (4-2) and perennial power Quincy Notre Dame (4-2). They need to beat UT this week to have a little wiggle room but, as the Panthers showed last week, that could be tougher than previously expected.
UT’s offense appeared unstoppable for much of the game against Rock Island before eventually losing steam in the final 16 minutes. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team rush for 530 yards and average 9.5 yards per carry and lose, but the performance still has to give UT’s offense confidence going forward.
Panthers senior Dakari Mars’ 293 yards rushing was a huge number and padded his league-best mark of 186.2 yards per game, but the running of backup quarterback JeanLuc Soglohun may have been even bigger. Soglohun, a state triple jump medalist last spring, got UT off to a sensational start with three long touchdown runs in the first half and finished with 162 yards. The Panthers exploited all the attention paid to Mars by faking handoffs that opened room for Soglohun to run through gaping holes. UT hasn’t gotten much production out of its QB position this year so anything to alleviate some of the pressure from Mars is certainly helpful.
The defense, however, left plenty of room for improvement. Rocky’s 61 points were the most allowed by UT this season and the Panthers are giving up an average of 36.6 points per game. That’s still 10 points per game better than last year, however.
Quincy will be coming into the game looking to erase memories from a lackluster performance against Moline and will bring a heavy dose of Deven Smith and twins Cameron and Carson Gay pounding the ball. With both teams coming off losses, it will be interesting to see how each of them responds.
Week 8 games
Alleman at Rock Island
United Township at Moline
Galesburg at Quincy