By Mike Monahan

Lincoln will play the final football meeting against Mattoon in the Apollo Conference as the Railsplitters are going back to the Central State Eight after six years in the Apollo. 

“We have had some really good games and battled over the last few years when we played them,” said Mattoon coach Jared Kimbro. “It is always a game we look forward to. We are very similar. They run the ball well and play good defense. We know we are going to get their best game every time we play them.” 

Last week Mattoon dropped a 43-6 non-conference game to Collinsville, while Lincoln lost to Mt. Zion 41-14, a team the Green Wave has lost to, 42-21. 

“In the first half, we played fairly well,” said Kimbro of the game against the Kahoks. “We fumbled inside the 5 (yard line) twice and they had a Pick Six and that didn’t help our cause against a very talented Collinsville football team. We have to limit those mistakes and stop shooting ourselves in the foot. We worked hard on trying to eliminate mistakes, which are extremely detrimental to winning the ball game.”

“We have fewer distractions than a normal Homecoming week,” said Kimbro. “We have been able to focus and have had a good week of practice. We are really looking forward to putting it on the field Friday night and seeing what happens.”

Here is the preview for tonight’s Homecoming game: 

TEAM RECORDS: Lincoln (2-3, 1-2) at Mattoon (1-4, 1-2)

PAST RESULTS: The last meeting between the two schools was when Lincoln won, 35-34. Matton led 22-8 when the Railsplitters went on a 27-0 run for a 35-22 advantage early in the fourth quarter. Mattoon trailed 35-28 when Jackson Spurgeon, the quarterback, scored on a four-yard run. He initially made the two-point conversion for the lead, but the play was called back due to a false start penalty and the pass fell incomplete. Mattoon is 3-2 against Lincloln with an average score of 37-24.

TICKETS: Sold at the entrance to Gaines Field.

SCHOOL SIZES: Lincoln 810, Mattoon 925

KICKOFF: 7 p.m., Gaines Field

WEATHER: 63 degrees and no chance of rain. Winds out of the northeast at 7 mph and humidity at 52 percent.

OPPONENT HISTORY: Matt Silkowski has coached the Railsplitters since they joined the Apollo Conference in 2016. Silkowski, an assistant coach at Homewood-Flossmoor for two years, is 16-34 (.320) in his sixth season, including back-to-back 4-5 seasons the last two seasons. Silkowski was an all-conference player at Tinley Park Andrew and is a 2008 Eastern Illinois University grad. 

The Railsplitters have only been in the playoffs twice, both times in Class 4A. The 1975 team went 9-1 (only the 1929 team was better at 7-0) and the 1984 squad went 9-2 and reached the quarterfinals. Lincoln has only had 28 winning or .500 seasons in the past 110 years. 

LINCOLN’S RUSHING GAME: Kion Carson, a 5-5, 141-pound junior, leads the team with 52 carries for 363 yards and eight touchdowns for an average of 72.6 yards per game. 

“Our biggest concern is their wingback, Kion Carson,” said Kimbro. “He is a fantastic running back and had a ton of success against us last year (Carson had 14 carries for 121 yards and a touchdown last year.) He is obviously one of the guys we will try and slow down. They run the ball well and we have to make sure to get our alignment right and play physical all night long.  They run the ball 60 percent of the time (732 yards). Carson is super dynamic.”

LINCOLN’S PASSING GAME: Junior Darrell Stevens ( 6-3, 170) has completed 27 of 50 passes for 541 yards and three touchdowns. Carson is his favorite target with nine catches for 232 yards and three touchdowns. Lincoln averages 277.6 yards and 18 points per game.

“Their quarterback (Stevens) throws the ball well when they need it,” said Kimbro. “They run the ball more than throw, but Stevens is perfectly capable of throwing it when they need it.” 

LINCOLN’S DEFENSE: The Railsplitters allow an average of 26 points per game. The top tacklers on the team averaging 9.3, 8 and 7.9 tackles per game are Payton Johnson (5-8, 165 senior), Tate Johnson (5-11, 180 sophomore) and Isaac Decker (senior), respectively. 

“They definitely remind me of us,” said Kimbro. “They play an even front with a cover two and a lot of teams run a cover two behind. We have to play physical up front, if we want to have any success running the ball.”

MATTOON”S RUSHING GAME: Senior Taeriek Grace (6-3, 205) is the team’s leading rusher with 64 carries for 295 yards and a touchdown. The ground game has 118 carries for 420 yards and three touchdowns. The offense averages 12.6  points per game. “We focused on our running game,” said Kimbro of this week’s practices. “We have to be able to run the ball.”

MATTOON’S PASSING GAME: Slater Trier (5-10, 150 junior) has completed 52-of-125 for 649 yards with five touchdowns and nine interceptions. The leading receiver is Owen Hawkins (5-11, 175 junior) with 23 catches for 317 yards and three touchdowns, while Logan Blackburn (5-5, 130 senior) has 12 for 164 yards and two touchdowns. 

“Offensively, we have to run the ball to keep our defense off the field a few more plays,” said Kimbro.

MATTOON’S DEFENSE: The MHS defense allows an average of 34.8 points. Aiden Blackburn (5-8, 140 junior) and Cale Kimbro (6-2, 175 sophomore) average 6.7 tackles per game.  

“Through three quarters last Friday the defense played fantastic,” said Kimbro. “We didn’t do them any favors offensively. The defense played a ton of plays. The defense is coming along even if the scoring doesn’t show it.”

WHAT KIMBRO SAID: “For us, it is like every week as we need to control the running game and keep their defense off the field. Offensively, we have to be on the field more and give the defense a rest and get some points. Defensively, we want to make sure we shut down what they want to do and that is run their dynamic running back, Carson.”