How to coach a football team after a big victory?
That was the
question facing Lincoln's head football coach in the aftermath of
last week's upset homecoming victory over Springfield. The Railers
beat the Senators by a final tally of 28-21.
Keeping the Railers humble and focused was McDonald's top
priority this week, ahead of tonight's game at Taylorville.
Not a bad problem to have, really.
"We thought about that," said McDonald when asked if last week's
victory affected this week's preparation. "It was a big win last
week, coming off of the excitement of homecoming week, where every
night there were things that the guys were involved in and things
during the day, along with just the reminders and the excitement of
"Early in the week, it felt like there was a little bit of a
lull. But we've picked it up the last couple of days in practice. I
think we're back, refocused. The guys are on a mission and ready to
take another big step forward this Friday."
A trap in Taylorville?
In many ways, tonight's contest is setting up a classic "trap
game" for the Railers.
Lincoln is coming into the game riding high after their best
victory in some time. With two wins under their belt, the Railers
know they're quite capable of beating an opponent with a record of
But, that's where things get tricky with the Tornadoes.
Taylorville's four losses are to high-quality Central State Eight
teams: Chatham-Glenwood, Rochester, Sacred Heart-Griffin and
Springfield High. The Tornadoes won their first game last week, but
it was against Princeton, a school with only 591 students -- far
below any other team in the Central State Eight conference -- and
they have not won a football game this season. Taylorville won by a
final score of 28-0.
So, with it being tough to gauge Taylorville's talent this
season, McDonald and his coaches are relying on what they've known
from previous years.
That means fans should expect an evenly matched dogfight.
The teams have gone into overtime in each of the last two
seasons. In 2010, the Railers won 30-24 in overtime at Taylorville.
Last season, Lincoln lost 13-12 on a failed two-point conversion
attempt in overtime.
Another indicator the game should be close: the nearly identical
school enrollment. Lincoln's enrollment is 841, while Taylorville's
sits at 844.
McDonald has implored his team to respect their opponent.
"Forget about their record being 1-4," said McDonald. "They've
lost to Rochester, Chatham, Springfield and Sacred Heart-Griffin,
who are four very good ballclubs.
"They take a lot of pride in their football program. It's
homecoming for them. They're going to play extremely hard, flying
around the ball. And they're coming off a win, which is a little
confidence boost and a taste of victory. They've gotten their reward
for all the hard work they've been putting in. We've got to come out
ready to play."
Veteran linemen happy to lead
With the teams being so evenly matched, it could be a game that's
won in the trenches.
That could be where the Railers have an advantage.
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Lincoln sports four senior starters on the offensive line. Riley
Reid, Austin Brummett, Daniel Bacon and Caleb Awe all bring size and
experience to the line. Brandon Aper, another senior, was a reliable
member of the unit before suffering an injury that has kept him out
of recent games.
All season long, the linemen have helped facilitate the Lincoln
"I think we've been all right," said Reid of the group's
performance this season. "We can still improve of course, though.
There's always room for improvement."
Reid, Brummett and Bacon each play both ways for Lincoln, a
difficult task for such a physically demanding position.
McDonald's expectations for the group have been high all season.
"I've told them from the beginning, and I've reiterated it every
week before our games, the high expectations I have of them and the
weight that's on their shoulders as senior linemen," said McDonald.
"I expect them to lead our team. I've issued a challenge to them
week after week. I've been pleased with the tenacity they've played
with week after week.
"Three of them play both ways. They're big guys, and it's even
harder for big guys to be on the field that long without getting
rest. They've continued to come out and work daily in practice, get
better. In a sense, they're the big brothers of the football team."
They've certainly been the big brothers to junior quarterback
Austin Krusz, who had to earn the seniors' trust after entering the
season with very little varsity experience.
"Our relationship with him is a great," said Reid. "We felt like,
as a young quarterback, we needed to include him in some of the
senior activities so that he knows what's going on. His success is
based on our success in a lot of ways. We get along pretty well."
The chemistry will have to be in place again against Taylorville.
While Lincoln is likely to have an advantage is size and strength,
McDonald warned that the Tornado defensive front is likely to be
quick and dangerous.
"For us to be successful and move the ball, then our line of
scrimmage has to move. We've got to get locked on to guys, block and
sustain blocks," said McDonald. "Taylorville is going to be
aggressive. They're going to have tough, athletic defensive linemen.
They always do. They're usually pretty strong for their size and
pretty explosive coming out of their stances. We've got to be as
quick and explosive as we can and be determined to move the line of
"They've been tough the last two years," said Reid. "I think this
is a game that will come down to the line and the play of Krusz. We
can't make mistakes. We have to keep those to a minimum."
[By JUSTIN TIERNEY]
Justin Tierney's Railer football reports