By Mike Monahan

Mattoon won its first game with a thrilling 17-14 win over Taylorville on the road last week.

Kaden Junge (6-2, 195 senior) booted a 32-yard field goal that hit the right upright before going in early in the fourth quarter to account for the final points of the game. 

“Kaden has done a tremendous job on becoming a kicker,” said Mattoon coach Jarad Kimbro. “There was no doubt in my mind it was going to go in. We are expecting a big crowd. We had a tremendous one week one and coming off the victory there should be another big crowd. They feed off that and want to do as much as they possibly can.”

The Green Wave will next attempt to win its first game on a revamped turf field against Effingham in a game tonight that features two strong rushing teams and 4-3 defenses. 

Effingham, meanwhile, is coming off its first win as well – a 31-13 decision over Charleston. In that game, Effingham’s Evan Waymoth (6-0, 175 senior) had 23 carries for 107 yards, while quarterback Tanner Pontious (6-3, 195 senior) completed 10-of-15 passes for 199 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. The Flaming Hearts also showed they have a good kicker – Armando Estrada booted a school-record 43-yard field goal.

“We have been very fortunate in my time here to have great kickers and Armando is a very good weapon to have from a scoring standpoint,” said Effingham coach Brett Hefner. “You know if you can get the ball to the 30 you have a good chance to get points. Also, from a kickoff standpoint, it plays a huge part in field position. We also have an outstanding punter, which is also huge for us.  We only had to punt once last week, but it was for 51 yards so it is a big weapon also”

Hefner said finally found a way to play well offensively last week against Charleston. But the EHS coach was still not pleased. “We still had too many mistakes to compete at a high level,” he said. “We had too many busts and points left on the field offensively. We had poor kickoff coverage again and at the end of the game had a bad penalty that kept a drive alive and allowed them to score. You can’t do those things and expect to win at a high level.”

Effingham has seven returning starters back on offense and six on defense from a team that went 4-5 last year and tied for second in the Apollo at 4-2. 

“Mattoon is very similar to us, ” said Effingham coach Brett Hefner. “They pride themselves on technique and getting hats to the ball.”

Kimbro expects a large crowd. “We had a tremendous crowd in week one and coming off the Taylorville win I am expecting a big crowd. “The players feed off that and want to do as much as they possibly can,” he said.

Here is the preview for tonight’s game: 

TEAM RECORDS: Effingham (1-2, 1-1) at Mattoon (1-2, 1-1)

PAST RESULTS: Effingham opened the season against the No. 2 team in Class 2A in Decatur St. Teresa and  lost 18-0 and then lost to the No. 3 team in Class 5A, Mahomet-Seymour, a fellow conference team, 35-14. “It was a very difficult way to open the season. We got beat up pretty good, but I loved the way our kids competed and I think it forced us to get adjusted to a pretty high level of play very quickly.”

Last season, Mattoon beat Effingham 20-14 victory in a game that featured 10 turnovers, four by the Green Wave, including two inside the Effingham 11. Quarterback Jackson Spurgeon completed 13-of-21 passes for 234 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Derrius White had seven receptions for 144 yards, while the top rusher was Taeriek Grace, who compiled 95 yards on 12 attempts. Mattoon gained 413 yards, while the Hearts had 463. Effingham was penalized eight times for 72 yards compared to four for 32 for MHS. Pontious found Estrada in stride for a 79-yard touchdown with 2:10 for the final score. 

TICKETS: Sold at the entrance to Gaines Field

SCHOOL SIZES:Effingham 736, Mattoon 929

KICKOFF: 7 p.m.

WEATHER: 76 degrees, real feel 74; winds 9 mph out of south, southeast, no percent chance of rain. 

OPPONENTS HISTORY: Effingham is coached by Brett Hefner, who is 41-25 (.621) through seven seasons. He is the son-in-law of former Mattoon coach and Illinois Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame coach Gerald Temples. Hefner served as offensive coordinator for MHS from 2005-2007. At Effingham, he guided the team to three straight Class 4A playoff appearances from 2017-2019, reaching the semifinals in 2019 after posting a school record 11-2 record. Since Mattoon joined the Apollo in 2012, Mattoon is 6-4 vs. Effingham, including 3-2 at home. The Hearts had won five straight before the Greenwave’s win last season. 

EFFINGHAM’S RUSHING GAME: Effingham has rushed 113 times for 379 yards, a 3.5 average per attempt, and three touchdowns. Evan Waymoth leads with 107 yards on 23 carries – all against the Trojans. 

“They are going to run the ball well,” said Kimbro. “We are similar offensively except they line up in two-back formation more than we do. We both want to run first and pass when we have to . It should be a good ball game for sure. Effingham is super physical. They have been that way since we joined the Apollo and even before that. We have to make sure we are detail oriented and have fewer mistakes than they do.” 

EFFINGHAM’S PASSING GAME: Pontious enters the game 31-55 for 367 with four touchdowns and two interceptions. His favorite targets are Lotz (8 catches for 151 yards) and two touchdowns and Garrett Wolf (6-0, 165 senior) with four receptions for 42 yards. 

EFFINGHAM DEFENSE: The Hearts have allowed an average of 22 points per game. Spencer Fox (6-1, 175 junior) leads the way with an average of 6.7 tackles per game, while London Rinkle (5-10, 180 senior) and Michael Love (6-0, 195 sophomore) average 6 and 6.3 tackles per game, respectively. “They play a 4-3 for the most part, which is similar to us,” said Kimbro. “They play physical and fast. All the things we are trying to do they do the same and do it very well. 

MATTOON’S RUSHING GAME: Mattoon has 324 yards rushing on 72 carries and three touchdowns. Taeriek Grace lead with 214 yards on 33 carries and a touchdown. Last week, MHS gained 118 yards in 22 carries. Said Hefner: “They are very well-coached and are getting better each game. Their running backs are outstanding and we are going to have to contain them and tackle well or it will be a long night.”

MATTOON’S PASSING GAME: Slater Trier (5-10, 150 junior) has completed 35-of-77 for 436 yards with five touchdowns and four interceptions. The leading receiver is Owen Hawkins (5-11, 175 junior) with 17 catches for 230 yards and three touchdowns, while Logan Blackburn (5-5, 130 senior) and Luke Branson (6-1, 190 junior) have seven receptions for 104 and two touchdowns and 81 yards, respectively. “We have not given (Slater) a ton of opportunities to be successful. We have been working on his quick game and things he does very well,” Kimbro said. “We want to run the ball to open up our passing game.”

MATTOON’S DEFENSE: The Green Wave allow an average of 32.2 points per game and are led by Aiden Blackburn (5-8, 140 junior) at 7.6 tackles per game, while Cale Kimbro (6-2, 175 sophomore) averages six tackles. “We only gave up 14 points last week,” said Kimbro. “It was a good start for our defense. They are bought in and doing what they can to be successful.”

WHAT HEFNER SAID: “We have to take care of the ball and not give up extra possessions, and we must tackle well defensively.”

WHAT KIMBRO SAID: “For us, the keys are: limit their possession as they will run the ball. We have to match that. We have to play solid defense and run the ball. If we can limit their possession and physical defense I think we will give ourselves a chance.”