It will be a battle of the seasoned veteran and the up-and-coming challenger when Monmouth College hosts Illinois College in a 1 p.m. kickoff Saturday at Monmouth’s April Zorn Memorial Stadium.
Monmouth (4-3, 4-2) – winners of three of the last four Midwest Conference titles – and Illinois College (6-1, 5-1) were ranked as co-favorites in the preseason MWC coaches’ poll, but neither leads the league heading into the weekend. Both were tripped up by Lake Forest – ranked sixth in the poll – and Monmouth suffered a second loss two weeks ago at Grinnell.
“I know IC lost to Lake Forest, but I believe they’re the best team we’ve seen in the conference thus far,” claimed coach Steve Bell. “They’re awfully darn good. They always play us extremely hard and it should be a good game to watch.”
The Blue Boys have been making steady progress and hope this could be the year to turn the corner. IC quarterback Michael Bates appeared ready to guide the team to the league crown after a successful freshman campaign, but the sophomore went down with an injury in the Lake Forest game and has missed the last two starts.
“We expect Bates to play,” said Bell of IC’s quarterback, who has thrown for nearly 300 yards per game. “Even when he’s not been in the lineup, they’ve stayed true to what they do. Their backup guy is extremely good, too. Regardless, I don’t expect any change in their overall offensive scheme.”
That scheme has averaged more than 44 points and 500 yards per game. IC has been nearly equal in mixing the pass and the run both in terms of yards and attempts.
If Bates is unable to play for the third straight week, expect 6-foot-3 junior Kendall Gibson to take the snaps. While he hasn’t equaled Bates’ yardage, he has connected on nearly 70 percent of his throws.
The Blue Boys share the wealth in the air with three players on the receiving end with more than 300 yards each: Colin Duling, Kevin Fuller and Wes Graham. Duling leads the pack with 350 yards, while Fuller has made a receiving corps-best five TD receptions and Graham touts a 71-yard reception.
When IC stays on the ground, expect junior running back Cecil Brimmage to get the call. He’s chewed up more than 500 yards averaging eight yards per carry, and he’s scored a team-high six touchdowns.
Both teams got their share of TDs in wins last week. The Scots scored on all but two possessions in a 56-28 win at Lawrence while racking up a season-high 600 yards of offense. Junior Trey Yocum scored four times, with his 42nd touchdown moving him within one of the all-time TD record set last year by Mike Blodgett. Yocum also rambled for 176 yards, setting the Scots’ record with his sixth consecutive 100-yard rushing game. Meanwhile, the Blue Boys were outgunning Knox 49-29. IC rolled up 490 yards of offense against the Prairie Fire, but also gave up 478 yards. Illinois College led 42-15 before Knox scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
Page 2 of 2 - Illinois College will enter this weekend’s game with an eye on staying just a game behind league-leading Lake Forest, but the Blue Boys will have to overcome a 15-game losing streak to the Scots. Continuing the streak is the farthest thing from Bell’s mind.
“I don’t pay any attention to that sort of thing,” said Bell. “Every year it’s a new team, so whatever happened in the past as far as wins and losses is in the past. What you can learn from the past is the team’s tendencies. We’ve got to be in tune with what IC is doing offensively and defensively. For us, it’s about Monmouth playing sound football. We’ve got to take care of our business. We need to create some turnovers and not make any ourselves. Then whatever happens, happens.”
All that remains now is to see if the challenger can beat the incumbent on Saturday.