Illinois Wesleyan's Tucci Stadium will host Tri Valley vs. LeRoy for the Heart of Illinois Conference title on Friday. (WJBC file photo)
By Bryan Bloodworth
BLOOMINGTON - Bragging rights won't be the only thing at stake when LeRoy and Tri-Valley, a pair of undefeated state-ranked football teams, meet at 7o'clock tonight at IWU's Tucci Stadium.
For the first time since the two schools abandoned a cooperative agreement 11 years ago, the teams will meet for the Heart of Illinois Conference championship.
"It will be a great atmosphere with a great crowd and playoff atmosphere," said Tri-Valley coach Josh Roop of the featured game on the WJBC Friday Night Football Extravaganza, powered by Frontier Communications.
Extravaganza coverage begins at 6:10 on WJBC 1230 AM and wjbc.com with Eric Stock as host.
"It's a game between two towns that have co-oped together and kids that played JFL football together," Roop continued. "It's great for both towns and the kids on both teams. They deserve it because they've had great seasons and worked hard. It's what you play high school football for."
Both teams are 8-0 overall and 6-0 in the conference.
LeRoy, which is ranked fourth in Class 1A, holds a 6-4 lead in the series between the schools, but Tri-Valley has won four of the last five games. Three of those games were determined by one-point and two went to overtime.
"It's one of those games were the kids raise their level of play," said LeRoy coach B.J. Zeleznik. "It's a bragging rights game. It will be a very fast and physical game."
Roop, whose team is ranked fourth in Class 2A, said the team that has the least turnovers will win.
"Whoever takes care of business up front and takes care of the football is the team that's going to win in a game like this when you have two evenly matched teams like this," added Roop.
LeRoy standout running back Shane Bruning, who has rushed for over 1,000 yards, is looking forward to the game.
"Our seniors grew up playing with these guys (Tri-Valley players) as teammates," said Bruning. "Whenever we went into high school we started a huge rivalry between us because we wanted those bragging rights when we met in the off-season.
"We were rooting for them to be 8-0 and us to be 8-0, so we could meet for the conference championship."
Other games as part of the Extravaganza have Normal Community, Normal West and Central Catholic facing must-win situations to assure themselves of playoff berths. All three are on the bubble with five wins.
Normal Community is at home against winless Champaign Central, while Normal West travels to Champaign Centennial (2-6) in Big 12 action. Central Catholic is at Decatur Eisenhower (1-7) in a non-conference game.
"We've pretty much had our backs against the wall since week 3," said Central Catholic coach Bobby Moews, whose team has won five straight. "We feel like we have to win this week to make the playoffs."
Normal Community coach Wes Temples said his team has come together in the last few weeks.
"The kids have responded to what were doing," said Temples. "We've changed some personnel and we've come together more as a team."
Normal West will be looking to break a three-game losing streak after starting the season with five wins.
"No question we've strauggled with Alex (quarterback Alex Jefferson, who suffered a broken leg in the fifth week) out," said Hess. "Turnovers have killed us, but the kids have hung in there and hopefully we can get things turned around this week.
Also on the Extravagnza are University High at Peoria Notre Dame; Bloomington at Decatur MacArthur; El Paso-Gridley at Deer Creek-Mackinaw and Pontiac at Kankakee.
U-High will be shooting for its first undefeated season since 1989, while Bloomington will gain a share of the Big 12 Conference crown with Urbana with a win.
"It's been four years since we've been an outright champion or share the title with anyone," said BHS coach Rigo Schmelzer. "It's a great opportunity to say that goal's in reach.'
U High coach Dusty Burk said the Pioneers will be looking to keep its momentum heading into the playoffs.
"If we're able to win this game, it helps us in our seeding for the playoffs," added Burk. "It's important to finish the regular season the right way with a win."
Bryan Bloodworth can be reached at email@example.com.