Joe Johnson will be counted on to help carry the U-High offense in tonight's opening round game in the Class 5A playoffs. (Photo by B Corbin/You Name It Sports)
By Bryan Bloodworth
BLOOMINGTON -University High puts its undefeated record and No. 1 seed in the Class 5A state playoffs on the line in the featured game of the Friday Night Football Extravaganza, powered by Frontier Communications, on WJBC 1230 AM and 93.7 FM.
The Pioneers (9-0) face Galesburg (5-4) in a 7 o'clock game at IWU's Tucci Stadium. Coverage on the Extravaganza, hosted by Eric Stock, begins at 6:10 with additional reports every 15 minutes on playoff games involving Tri-Valley, Ridgeview, Flanagan-Cornell-Woodland and Tremont.
U-High, champion of the Corn Belt Conference, is enjoying its best season since 1989 and it's not a fluke.
"The kids have come in this year with the expectation of winning," said U High coach Dusty Burk. "That's something that three or four years ago we didn't have those kind of expectations around here. All the credit goes to the kids because they've brought that mentality into our program. The kids believe in themselves and you can't put a price on that."
Sophomore quarterback Arion Worthman leads an offense that is averaging 36.9 points per game. Worthman has completed 95 of 159 passes for 1,411 yards and 19 touchdowns, while rushing for another 465 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Worthman is complemented on offense by running backs Joe Johnson and Bryan Sengsay, along with receivers Kane and Malik Wildermuth. Johnson has rushed for a team-high 661 yards and nine touchdowns despite missing two games, while Sengsay has added 416 yards.
The Wildermuth twins have combined for 720 yards and 12 touchdowns on 48 receptions. Kane leads the way with 26 catches for 488 yards and nine touchdowns, Malik has 22 catches for 332 yards.
"We want to get back to scoring a lot of points," added Burk, whose team has scored just 29 points the last two weeks after scoring 303 the first seven weeks. "The last couple of weeks we haven't been putting the points on the board like we'd like. Our focus this week has been to get back into better rhythm, finish drives and put points on board."
Defensively, the Pioneers have been led by the trio of Jeff Larsen, Mitch Bottorff and Carson Schumacher. Larsen has a team-high 106 tackles, including 39 solos, while Bottorff has 69 stops and Schumacher 49. Schumacher tops the Pioneers with nine quarterback sacks.
U-High's secondary has intercepted 16 passes with Zach Zook and Noah Larsen leading the way with four each.
The Pioneers' defense will have to slow down running back Jonathan Mixon if they want to advance to a second-round matchup next week against either Metamora or Washington. Mixon has 1,091 yards and 10 touchdowns.
"He's the heart and soul of the team," said Burk. "He's an extremely talented football player, so our focus defensively is to stop him. Galesburg has pretty good size too."
Galesburg is a member of the Western Big 6 Conference and qualified for the playoffs with an at-large berth.
Bryan Bloodworth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org