Prep football: Playoffs still a possibility for Steamers
Playoffs? You want to talk about playoffs?
In Fulton, yes indeed they do.
The Steamers haven't been invited to the postseason party since 2007, but with a pair of wins the next 2 weeks, they'll be in that position. Task No. 1 is to handle Amboy on Friday night in Fulton.
Five wins is the magic number for qualifying for the playoffs, and Fulton (3-4, 1-3 Three Rivers North) can still get there. If it does, Three Rivers crossover games against Kewanee (6-1) and Orion (4-3) the first 2 weeks of the season will strengthen its cause.
"What we go with every year is we want to stay in it as long as we can," Fulton coach Patrick Lower said. "So far, we're still in there. We've got the four losses, so one more and it doesn't look good, but right now we're still in it with two to play."
Looming in Week 9 is a potential showdown game at Bureau Valley. The Storm (3-4, 2-2) visit winless Riverdale this week, and with a win, would also be looking for one more victory to make themselves playoff eligible.
"If we get these two, which I think we will," senior two-way lineman Paul Velasco said, "I think we can do some hurtin' on some teams."
Fulton started out like gangbusters this season, with a 42-20 thumping of Orion. Senior quarterback Ethan Jones rushed for four touchdowns and threw for another in the rout, and seemed poised for a banner season.
The next week, however, Jones went down with a sprained left ankle early against Kewanee. Devin Kuehl, a senior running back, filled in the rest of that game, then sophomore Jack Lemke took over the next two games. The Steamers went 0-3 during that stretch.
"For a while there, our playbook was pretty small," Lower said.
Jones returned in Week 5, in time for a date with league heavyweight Newman. That did not go well (a 55-14 home loss), but the Steamers have found their stride the last 2 weeks.
In a 35-6 win over Princeton on Oct. 4, Austin Regenwether rushed for 152 yards and three touchdowns. In a 57-6 demolition of Riverdale last week, Kuehl and Jones each scored three times, and the Steamers racked up 464 yards of total offense.
"Ethan is a big part of our triple-option offense," Kuehl said. "With him back and healthy, everything is clicking good."
"Now, we're getting as healthy as we're going to be, and we have more things that we can do," Lower said. "There's different sets we can go to, and hopefully exploit the defenses a little bit more than what we've been doing."
Fulton will look to continue its recent success against a team, Amboy, it has not defeated since the 2001 season. This year's Clippers (2-5, 2-2), however, have been hit hard by injuries, and lack the firepower of Amboy clubs of the past.
Lower, however, isn't expecting anything easy come Friday night.
"They're the same Amboy Clippers every time," Lower said. "They're physical kids, they're tough-nosed kids, and they play hard to the whistle. Coach [Gary] Jones does a great job over there, and it's definitely going to be a great challenge for us."
Senior running back Jason Bontz has emerged as the Clippers' top threat. He has 145 carries for 889 yards and eight touchdowns. He went for 104 yards against a rugged Erie-Prophetstown defense 2 weeks ago, then put up 206 yards vs. Bureau Valley last week.
"Amboy, they're big boys, and they run the ball hard," Kuehl said, "but we can stop them. We've got a really good defensive line with [Paul] Velasco and [Jake] Willging."
Amboy at Fulton
When: 7:30 Friday
Radio: 1390 AM; 101.7 FM
Twitter: Larry Brennan (@LarryBrennan)