BELOIT - The Beloit Turner football team is back at close to full strength, and coach Derek Diehl has noticed the impact that fact has had on his team's work this week.
"This is the best we've practiced in four or five weeks," Diehl said. "The kids are energized. The kids that held down the fort while some of our guys were out have ceded their roles back, and the guys are being good to each other."
The Trojans were blown out of each of their last two games, and now must win at least one of their final two games to guarantee a playoff spot. With a very difficult game looming at East Troy next week, Turner has been pointing to this game for a while.
"Playing Clinton is motivation enough for these guys," Diehl said. "It's a rivalry game. I feel that we're in a situation that is really just great timing. We're going to play a rivalry game and if you can't get amped up for that, our season is over. All the adversity we went through came in perfect timing. No one wants us to make mistakes like we did, but now is a chance to build some momentum for the rest of the season."
Diehl said he has little doubt the Cougars will come to play despite their 1-6 record.
"Clinton gets off the ball really well and they are always well-coached," Diehl said. "They are going to do the individual stuff really well. I think the team that gets off the ball and makes the fewest mistakes and penalties is going to be in the drivers seat Friday night."
Clinton coach Jacob Standiford said his team should be ready to roll once 7 p.m. Friday hits.
"Our kids don't need a ton of motivation to get ready for a Turner football game," Standiford said. "They do a lot of different things offensively, so there's a lot to prepare for. They have a lot of talent, and their numbers are outstanding for a school their size."
The Cougars have been competitive in nearly every first half this year, but the second half has been a different story. Last week against undefeated McFarland was a microcosm of the Cougars' season. Clinton trailed just 16-6 at intermission, but ended up falling 44-6.
"We have to take care of the football and play consistent offensively," Standiford said. "If we are able to do that for four quarters, we should be in the game in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to sustain momentum for four quarters. It really just comes down to being execute the things we do out there."
• BIG FOOT (3-4) at BRODHEAD-JUDA (2-5): Big Foot coach Greg Enz believes the Chiefs could be in line to clinch a playoff berth with a win over rival Brodhead-Juda Friday night.
"Historically, the chances have been really good for a team that plays in a 10-team conference that has four wins," Enz said. "It's not a guarantee, but we would feel really good. We know this is a really big game. They are all big games, but the timing of this one and the impact it could have is significant."
The Chiefs have played their way into playoff contention largely on the strong right arm of quarterback Logan Eischeid, who has thrown for a Rock Valley Conference-best 1,403 yards this season.
"For Logan, it was a matter of being patient and doing the things that you do well," Enz said. "Don't try to be (former Big Foot quarterbacks) Brett Morris or Zak Greco or Mike Dowden or Jackson Enz, just be you. Between what we've fashioned for him and his growth in confidence, especially after the third game, he's just been really good."
The picture on the Brodhead-Juda side hasn't been so rosy. The Cardinals are coming off their worst loss of the season, a 19-7 loss at the hands of a Whitewater team that entered the contest with just one victory. Of particular concern was the run defense, which allowed the Whippets to rush for 249 yards in the game.
• HONONEGAH (6-0) at AUBURN (2-4): It's another week of trying to stay on track and stay healthy for Hononegah, a team still two weeks away from a final week showdown with one-loss Harlem.
The Knights struggled out of the chute, losing their first four games. They have since rallied, winning their last two over Belvidere and Jefferson.
Hononegah has scored at least 30 points in five of its six games, and has yet to allow more than 21 points.
• PARKVIEW (0-5) at PALMYRA-EAGLE (5-2): The Vikings have just two games left to try and avoid their second straight winless season.
They will take on a Palmyra-Eagle team in a matchup of former Rock Valley Conference foes Friday night. The Panthers have benefited greatly from the switch in conferences.
A former doormat in the RVC, the Panthers have already clinched a playoff berth this season and now are seeking the opportunity to host a level one game.
• NORTH BOONE (4-2) at ROCK FALLS (0-6): The Vikings are seeking to lock up a playoff berth with a victory over a Rock Falls team that has been beaten by at least 14 points in every game they've played.
The Vikings are coming off a thrilling overtime win over Stillman Valley, and can still come away with an excellent seed in the playoffs if they are able to run the table the rest of the way.
• SOUTH BELOIT (2-4) at MOOSEHEART (The SoBos will get the opportunity to play a rare Saturday afternoon game this week. After winning two straight games, South Beloit was manhandled by Hiawatha 56-6 last week.
Mooseheart's only victory came via forfeit. They have surrendered an average of 54 points in the last three weeks.