Today: Mercer County hosts Clifton Central in a 2 p.m. Class 2A state semifinal at George Pratt Memorial Field.|
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Up next: The winner faces either Camp Point Central or Belleville Althoff in next Friday's 1 p.m. state championship game at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.
Why watch: Mercer County reaches its first semifinal since Aledo and Westmer consolidated three years ago. Prior to that, Aledo's last semifinal trip was 2006. The Comets are in the semifinals for the third time and first since 2008. ... Central's lone loss was a 14-7 setback to St. Joseph-Ogden on Sept. 14. ... Senior RB Logan Gigl leads the Comets with 1,969 rush yards on 271 carries. He recently set school records for single-season and career yardage. Juniors Noah Frerichs (459 yards) and Luc Blume (456) also get carries out of the Central backfield. "They're big, physical and run downhill," Mercer County coach Nat Zunkel said. "They're very good at what they do, which is the power-run game. ... They're the best team we've played to date." ... The Golden Eagles still do not have a 1,000-yard rusher, but Zach Nelson (852 yards), Jesse Snyder (651) and Logan Snyder (577) are the top backfield options. Senior QB Tanner Matlick has completed 62.5 percent of his 160 passes for 1,684 yards and 20 TDs. "I like what we do," Zunkel said. "I like how our kids have prepared. Our success is going to be based on how we execute." ... Annawan-Wethersfield is the only common opponent between the two. Mercer County earned a 27-0 victory in the regular-season finale, which Central topped the Titans, 48-27, in the state quarterfinal. ... Mercer County senior defensive lineman Tim Willet and junior defensive lineman Bobby Lincoln are out today. Willet is recovering from an ankle injury and Lincoln is serving an IHSA-mandated one-game suspension after being ejected from last week's quarterfinal win at Amboy. ... There have been six semifinal games in George Pratt Memorial Field history. The home team has won the last four.
Mercer County coach Nat Zunkel: "Our kids are smart. Our community is smart. Everyone realizes what this game is for."
-- By Daniel Makarewicz, firstname.lastname@example.org