Give the schedule makers a shout-out.
Two undefeated teams matched up in the final game of the regular season with a region championship on the line.
That’s the situation tonight when No. 3-ranked Shiloh Christian and No. 5 New Salem-Almont-Glen Ullin meet at Shiloh’s Miller Field in a winner-take-all battle of unbeaten 9-man Region 5 teams. Both are 7-0 overall and 6-0 in region play.
The 9-man postseason begins on Oct. 14, but Shiloh coach Funnon Barker is expecting a playoff atmosphere tonight.
“Whenever you have two good teams playing an important game this late in the season, it’s an exciting time for everyone,” he said. “Both teams had goals to get here and now they have the opportunity. The playoffs haven’t started yet, but this game will definitely have a playoff feel to it.”
New Salem-AGU coach Steve Kleinjan agrees.
“It’s always fun to have the opportunity to play in a game where there’s so much on the line,” he said. “The winner gets a region championship, but there’s also the opportunity to get some home playoff games. This is going to be a great tune-up for the postseason. We both want to close out the (regular) season on a high note and ride the momentum into the playoffs.”
Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
Shiloh is seeking its fifth straight region championship. This year’s team is similar to the previous four in that it's powered by a strong running game. This season the Skyhawks have ground out 293 yards per game, with Canaan Fagerland, Jonas Jonson, and Michael Kuehn rushing for 922, 346 and 244 yards, respectively. Fagerland, a 1,000-yard rusher last season, is averaging 10.1 yards per carry and has scored 12 touchdowns.
Needless to say, the offensive line, consisting of center Jon Dolbec, guards Austin Hartman and Josh Lardy, and tight ends Bartholomew Ogbu and Jonas Mitzel, has been stellar.
“We’ve developed a tradition here the past several years. We want to be physical, pound the football and control the tempo,” Barker said. “Once again we have kids who run hard and an offensive line that does a great job opening holes. We’re going to need a big effort on Friday. New Salem is a very good offensive team, and running the ball and controlling the clock is one way to keep that offense off the field.”
The starting quarterback position was a concern for the Skyhawks at the start of the season, but sophomore Jaden Mitzel has exceeded expectations. He has completed 45 of 65 passes for 853 yards and 19 touchdowns, and has been intercepted once.
“Jaden is a first-year starter but he’s been solid all year. We normally don’t ask our quarterbacks to throw much, but when we do call a pass play, Jaden has been able to find the open guy and get him the ball,” Barker said. “We like the way he takes care of the ball – only one interception this year. We mostly run the ball, but Jaden makes us multi-dimensional, which is what you have to be to go far in the playoffs.”
New Salem-AGU has a seasoned veteran under center in Evan Henke. The junior has completed 57 of 101 passes for 1,081 yards and 15 touchdowns, with only three interceptions. In addition, Henke has rushed for 211 yards and seven touchdowns.
“Evan is in his third year as a starter and as expected, he’s been a real leader on the field,” Kleinjan said. “He’s doing a great job reading defenses and making calls at the line. He’s an accurate passer, and he runs the ball very well, too.”
Henke’s supporting cast includes Braden Zuroff and Brandon Schroeder, who have rushed for 626 and 367 yards, respectively. Schroeder also has 181 yards receiving on nine catches, and Zuroff has nine receptions for 102 yards.
The Holsteins’ top receiver is Garret Soupir, a former running back who has hauled in 23 passes for 415 yards and eight touchdowns.
Kleinjan said his offense has been hitting on all cylinders in recent weeks, thanks in large part to the improvement of the offensive line – center Dylan Thiel, guards Logan Becker, Dawson Bueligen and Adam Morman, and tight end Jake Sanders.
“The offensive line is an area where we’ve seen the most improvement,” he said. “The kids up front were mostly new at the start of the year and they had some struggles early on, but they worked hard at it week after week and right now they’re playing very well.”
Barker said his defense will have its hands full tonight.
“They have so many explosive players, and they’re big and physical up front,” he said. “We know we have to stay on our assignments, rally to the ball and tackle well.”
Kleinjan stressed the importance of containing the Shiloh running game.
“Everybody’s knows Shiloh likes to run the ball. If they establish their running game, that’ll set up the play-action pass, which is another thing they do very well,” he said. “We know we have to contain their ground game if we expect to win. We can’t allow them to come out and take control of the line of scrimmage.”
NOTES: Henke, a linebacker, also leads the Holsteins with 38 tackles, including 27 solo and 17.5 for a loss. Schroeder has 36.5 tackles (17 for a loss), Chauncey Dittus 34 and Bueligen 33. Schroeder has 5.5 sacks, and Garret Soupir has four of New Salem-AGU’s 13 interceptions. … For Shiloh, Fagerland has a team-high 39 tackles – 35 solo. Trey Brunelle has 30 stops (26 solo), and Ogbu 29 (11 for a loss).