For the first time all season, Lincoln has strung together consecutive wins. Getting a third straight win this week will be a challenge as the opponent carries a much more impressive streak.
Mount Carmel, Ill., comes to Inman Field for the final time for a 7:30 p.m. Friday game, as the Alices (3-4) attempt to knock off the Golden Aces and their perfect 6-0 record on senior night.
It’s the first time Lincoln plays Mount Carmel in a nonconference football game, as the school exited the Big Eight Conference last spring because of an impending Illinois High School Association rule, which ultimately led to the league’s demise.
Though the Golden Aces are undefeated, it’s difficult to gauge how good they are. Many of their scores are lopsided, but they’ve shown lapses in every game. Mount Carmel has faced early deficits three times, twice due to missed extra points, and against Mount Vernon and Olney (Ill.), the Aces built three-touchdown margins only to see the Wildcats and Tigers bring it back to within a possession before securing the win.
Still, Mount Carmel appears to be one of the best teams on Lincoln’s slate, and based on the results against their lone common opponent to this point — Mount Carmel beat Mount Vernon 30-24; Lincoln lost to Mount Vernon, 35-18 — the Aces are likely favored.
“They’re probably the hardest team we’ve played to judge (how good they are),” Lincoln coach Levi Salters said. “They’ve played Princeton and Mount Vernon, and I’d say they’re pretty even with Mount Vernon. Other than that, they’ve played Illinois schools that we don’t have a good read on. But they’re 6-0, so it’s another good measuring stick for our kids. It’s a good opportunity to show how much we’ve improved since the Mount Vernon game.”
Lincoln is confident after blasting Washington, 47-16, on homecoming a week ago, as the Alices needed just seven plays to score their first four touchdowns. Some new players got in the action too with senior receivers Simon York and Baron Vieck and juniors Blake Mincey and Andrew Brown scoring their first touchdowns of the season. Mincey’s and Brown’s scores came on punt and fumble returns.
Senior running back Rae Haislip, senior receivers Torrence Gillis and Brody Ruggles, and junior quarterback Eric Vickers, the team’s usual offensive leaders, were scarcely needed last week. Vickers leads the area with 840 yards and eight touchdowns through the air, and Gillis and Ruggles are tops as well with 418 and 386 receiving yards. Haislip is second in the area with 499 rushing yards.
The pro-I formation, led by junior quarterback E Smith, has given life to Lincoln’s running game. Vickers is still the passing option, but Salters said he’s riding whatever is working on Friday.
“We found a lot of holes in their zone last year, but they’ve switched from a cover-2 to mostly cover-4,” Salters said. “We can find some holes, but it just depends if we can give (Vickers) enough time to throw. If we’re running it well, gobbling up yards on the ground, you may see more pro-I. We’ll see how it goes.
“It was nice to get out and execute (last week). Offensively, sometimes you need those games just so the kids can see how well plays can work when you execute. It also allowed us to rest some kids who needed to get healthy.”
Junior linebacker Brayten Potter and junior lineman Julio Ramirez were two that sat out last week, both with ankle injuries. Salters said they could have played if needed, but that they are definitely suiting up this week.
The Golden Aces are a run-heavy team, but they also have a capable thrower in 6-7 junior quarterback Kaleb Applebey. The focal point, however, is sophomore Zeke Hadra, who’s already racked up 1,043 rushing yards this season with 19 total touchdowns. Senior receivers Beau Stipp and Aden Gill are also playmakers to watch on an offense that averages 40.2 points per game. Hadra exited with an ankle injury two weeks ago, but showed little effects last week in rushing for two scores, including a 52-yard romp to seal it late in a 27-7 win at East Alton-Wood River.
“Applebey obviously has the size, and he’s got a really good arm, but he’s not always accurate, so they’ve gone run-heavy this season,” Salters said. “Scheme-wise, it’s similar to what North Knox does, but they have wide splits up front. They have decent size, but we’ve played against bigger. They like to run on the perimeter mostly, and if we can force them to throw it, that’s what we want to do.
“Applebey is a better runner than he’s shown in the past, and Hadra makes big plays for them every game. It’s hard to judge how fast he is, but regardless, he’s making big plays. Stipp may run it a little bit, and Gill is going to get in there too.”
Friday is Lincoln’s first nonconference game against an Illinois schools since Casey in 2011. The Alices won the last two meetings against Mount Carmel by a combined score of 110-16, and Lincoln also won the first three games in the Big Eight series beginning in 2003. Between those five wins, however, Mount Carmel owns a 10-1 mark, making the all-time series 10-6 in favor of the Aces.
Big Eight standings
Mount Vernon 3-0 5-2
Jasper 3-0 3-3
Boonville 3-2 3-4
Princeton 1-2 1-6
Lincoln 1-3 3-4
Washington 0-4 0-7
Last Friday’s results
Lincoln 47, Washington 16
Boonville 48, Princeton 7
Last Saturday’s result
Mount Vernon 38, Scottsburg 14
Mount Carmel at Lincoln
Boonville at South Spencer
Jasper at Washington
Princeton at Mount Vernon