MOUNT CARMEL -- One last encore at the Snake Pit.
For some time Mount Carmel's seniors have spoke of their desire to host a playoff game. Well, they got their wish this past Saturday.
The Aces (8-1) were given the nod to host Carlinville in the opening round of the IHSA 3A Football Playoffs, an opponent which should be challenging for the Aces, but one they'll face at the friendly confines of Riverview Stadium.
"We wanted to play here and wanted to give ourselves as many home games as we could," Mount Carmel Head Football Coach Michael Brewer explained. "Especially in the playoffs where you don't know how far you'll have to travel, you could go a long way. Carlinville's got a three-hour trip on a bus and for high school kids that's difficult, for anyone that can be difficult. We're happy to be home and so we just need to take care of business now."
The Cavaliers (6-3) enter the contest on a five-game win streak, a streak that was spurred by a systematic change midseason, complemented by a friendlier slate.
After a 1-3 start, Carlinville Head Football Coach Chad Easterday switching from their historically successful spread system to more of an I-formation, run-heavy look.
Since the switch the Cavaliers are averaging 326.8 rush yards per game and defeating foes with an average margin of victory of 34.6 points per game.
Senior Colton DeLong has been the star of the revitalized Cavaliers offense, having rushed 221 times for 1,650 yards and 22 scores. DeLong's averaging 183.3 yards per game, having rushed for over 100 yards in eight of nine games this season and averaging 7.5 yards per carry.
Containing DeLong and his bruising 6'1, 220 pound frame figures to be a tall task, but one the Aces rush defense will look to accept and rise to the occasion against.
"He's a good player, probably 6'1, 6'2, 210 pounds," Brewer spoke of DeLong. "When he gets loose and gets going he can run. We need to keep him bottled up and contained, we have to make sure our defensive lineman aren't getting too far upfield and we're playing with our hands. If we're disciplined and we're playing good, fundamental football, I think we'll be ok."
On the season the Aces are allowing just 3.5 yards per rush and a total of 109 rushing yards per game. As stout as the Aces rush defense has been all season long, yards may be a little more difficult to accumulate than what DeLong's become accustomed to.
Look for the battle at the line to be a key in the game. The Aces cannot allow the Cavaliers to run it down their throat, or get a significant push at the line of scrimmage.
Offensively, Mount Carmel returns a dynamic presence they haven't had in a couple weeks, sophomore back Zeke Hadra.
Hadra missed the Aces' last two contests after aggravating his sprained ankle in the loss to Vincennes Lincoln. Brewer said Hadra's been practicing this week and is well on his way to suiting up on Saturday.
"He's practiced this week and looks good," Brewer spoke of Hadra. "It was nice to be able to hold him out of those games and still pull them off. He got the rest he needed, should be ready to go, he's been practicing and looks good so we're excited to have Zeke back."
With Hadra in the fold the Aces add a dimension that completely opens things up offensively. He and junior Beau Stipp have often exploded with big plays, making his return an extremely welcome sight ahead of the most important game of the season. Hadra enters the contest with 1,351 total yards and 19 touchdowns in seven games played (though he only played in the first quarter against Vincennes).
Finding running lanes against this Carlinville defense may prove difficult for Hadra. Through the course of their five-game win streak the Cavaliers are allowing just 9.4 points per game and playing tremendous defensively.
Albeit, any team you face in the playoffs is going to be a quality team, they had to find some level of success to reach that point. Control what's in your control, play your usual style of football and prepare appropriately for what the other team may present, and that's just what Brewer and the Aces plan to do.
Brewer's confident Aces fans will show up in swarms at the Snake Pit on Saturday, in what will be one last encore for these seniors who led the program to its first playoff appearance in three years. At home the Aces just seem to have another gear, they're undefeated on the season in home games and outscoring foes by 25 points per game.
As the old saying goes, 'There's no place like home.'
"We said we wanted to be at home and play home playoff games and there's no better place to play them," Brewer said." Hopefully now that we're in the playoffs the Aces faithful will show up and show out, we'll have a packed Snake Pit and the place will be full. That's what we're hoping for, it's been a really cool year, celebrating and looking back at the 100 years."
KICKOFF: Saturday, Nov. 2; kickoff at 2 p.m. As always, follow the Register's Facebook page for updates throughout the Aces' game.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Aces rush defense (3.5 yards per rush allowed, 109 per game) vs. Colton DeLong (1,650 rush yards, 22 TDs).
INJURIES TO MONITOR: Sophomore Zeke Hadra will make his return to the field on Saturday after a brief two-game absence. Hadra will look to showcase his usual dynamic playmaking form against a rugged Cavalier defense.