By Mike Monahan

Friday is the Apollo Conference opener for Mattoon as they travel to Mt. Zion, a team that has held the Green Wave to seven points the last three seasons. Mattoon is hoping for its first win over Mt. Zion since a 15-14 in 2018, which was also at Mt. Zion. The last time the Green Wave started 1-0 in the conference was 2019 after a 27-14 win over Charleston. 

Mt. Zion defeated Bartonville Limestone, 48-7, while MHS lost to Troy Triad, 41-22.

“I think that we had a lot of guys in their first real varsity action last week,” said Mattoon coach Jarad Kimbro. “Now they have their feet wet. Mt. Zion is no slouch. We are going into this game preparing for their best shot. We are looking for improvement and, if we do the things we need to do, it will be a good game. Mt. Zion is well-coached. We are looking forward to the opportunity on Friday (today). Being 1-1 is a lot better than 0-2. Our kids know the value of getting that first win. We know Mt. Zion is well coached and will give us a ball game. We need to dot our I’s and cross our T’s to be at full strength, if we want to have a chance.” 

The Braves return eight starters on offense from a team that averaged 29.9 points per game. 

“I believe that we are athletic and have some experience up front on the offensive line,” said Mt Zion coach Patrick Etherton.

Here is the preview for tonight’s game: 

Team records: Mattoon (0-1) at Mt. Zion (1-0)

Past results: Last season, Mt. Zion beat Mattoon, 31-17, but the Green Wave trailed just 13-7 at the half. Makobi Adams was 5-of-9 for 111 yards and two touchdowns for the Braves, who would go on to finish the season 6-4 to earn a berth in the Class 4A playoffs, before eventually falling to Paris, 17-6. The Braves had 51 carries for 207 yards with Zacary Q. Girard led the way with 16 carries for 69 yards and a touchdown. Grant Macatee was among the top receivers with two catches for 37 yards for the Battles, who finished in the Apollo at 4-2. Mattoon (3-6, 3-3) tied for fourth with Lincoln under former coach Troy Johnson. The Green Wave managed just 170 total yards vs. Mt. Zion last year. Jackson Spurgeon was 9-for-15 for 100 yards with Slater Trier had four catches for 29 yards. 

Tickets: Sold at the entrance to Mt. Zion football field

School sizes: Mattoon 929, Mt. Zion 763

Kickoff: 7 p.m.

Misc: The weather is predicted to be 78 degrees with a real-feel temperature of 81 and winds out of the southeast at 7 mph. The humidity is expected to be 71 percent with no chance of rain. 

Opponent’s history: Mt. Zion is coached by Patrick Etherton, who entered his sixth year with a record of 36-15, including four trips to the playoffs – two in Class 4A and two in Class 5A. He guided the Braves to the second round of the playoffs in 2016 and 2019. Etherton is a 2000 grad of Millikin University where he was the head coach from 2011-15 after having served as an assistant since 2004. He was also an assistant coach at Washington & Jefferson College, the University of Puget Sound and Allegheny College. The Braves have had seven straight winning seasons. 

The Green Wave, since joining the Apollo in 2012, are 4-6 against the Braves with an average score of 34-21 in favor of Mt. Zion. There have been no shutouts in the series. 

Mt. Zion’s running game: Junior Jayger Damarin (5-9, 175) led the team in rushing with 12 carries for 117 yards and a touchdown in the season-opening non-conference 48-7 win at Bartonville and the team had 21 carries for 196 yards and four touchdowns. 

“Their offense is dynamic,” said Kimbro. “They have fantastic athletes. If you give an inch they will take a mile. They have fantastic athletes. 

Mt Zion’s passing game: Junior Makobi Adams (6-2, 180), starts his second year at quarterback after going 31-of-61 for 403 yards and seven touchdowns with no interceptions last season. Last week, he completed 9-of-20 passes for 196 yards and four touchdowns. Junior Grant Mcatee (6-3, 180) caught four passes for 127 yards and three touchdowns. Other players who caught at least one pass: Jacob Harvey (2 passes for 16 yards), Brayden Trimble (1-15), Damarin (1-11) and Karson Bollhorst (1-27). 

Mt. Zion defense: The Braves, who return five starters on defense, had two interceptions last week. They tend to play a 3-4 scheme, which Kimbro said they don’t see a lot. “We are trying to get our guys honed in on what they need to do based on what they give us, Kimbro said. “They are solid defensively and play all facets of the game well.” In the win last week, the Braves had a punt and a kickoff return for touchdowns. 

“I thought we made a lot of plays on all aspects of the game, offense, defense and special teams,” said Etherton. “We have some kids that haven’t played a lot of varsity football, so it was nice to see them make the most of their opportunities.”

The defense allowed 19.2 points per game last season. 

“We play multiple fronts on defense, based on the opponent and we will switch between four down and three down throughout the year,” said Etherton.

Mattoon rushing: Mattoon was led in rushing by sophomore Deaiden Arnold (5-11, 185) with 12 carries for 34 yards and a touchdown. The Green Wave had just 15 carries for 44 yards in the loss to Troy Triad. “Our biggest thing we are trying to improve on is our front blocking,” said Kimbro. “We only ran for about 50 yards, and you are not going to win any game doing that. Our big emphasis has been on the offensive line to improve physically. We have had a good week of practice. There was not a lot of success when you get hit in the backfield. Our offensive line has to be physical and set the tone of the game right out of the gate.”

Mattoon passing: Slater Trier, a junior making his first start at quarterback, completed 20 of 34 passes for 211 yards with two interceptions and two touchdowns. “He wasn’t bad, completing about 60 percent of his passes,” said Kimbro. “He knows what we want him to do and does it really well. He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes and the kids respect him. He made a lot of good decisions. The interception in the end zone was my fault. He is the right player at the right position. That is for sure.” Junior WR Owen Hawkins (5-11, 175) led MHS in receiving with 10 catches for 121 yards, while senior WR Logan Blackburn (5-5, 130) had five receptions for 71 yards, junior WR Wilson Spraker had 3 for 12 along and Luke Branson had 2 for 7. 

Mattoon defense: Junior LB Aiden Blackburn (5-8, 145) led the team in tackles, recording seven solo and two assisted, last week in the season opener. T.J. Owens (5-10, 195) was second best at six (3/3), followed by senior DB Logan Blackburn with five and senior DL Taeriek Grace (6-3, 200) and sophomore DB Ben Capitosti (5-7, 139), who each had three solos and one assisted. Triad compiled 194 rushing yards and 201 passing yards, averaging 8.2 yards per play against Mattoon. “We have to make sure our defense is sound and take away things they want to do,” said Kimbro. “We have to take the receivers out of getting into space and give ourselves a chance.” 

What Mt Zion said: “We are working on everything as we have a lot to improve on and Mattoon has a very good team,” Etherton said. “The Mattoon kids are well-coached and played a good game against a very talented Triad team last week.”

What MHS said: “The kids played hard,” Kimbro said. “That is the one thing we definitely have going for us. We played with heart and played physical. Triad is a heck of a team. We shot ourselves in the foot a little bit, but we battled back. They (Triad) are a good ball club and you can’t make mistakes like that and beat them.”