By Mike Monahan

The coaches know: their players are already fired up for tonight’s Coles County Clash.

The records do not matter when these two cross-county rivals battle during the 11th annual football game held at EIU’s O’Brien Stadium, which kicks off at 7 p.m.

“It doesn’t matter if it is football, volleyball, baseball  or tiddlywinks – if you can’t get fired up to when you play Mattoon, there is something wrong,” said Charleston football coach Jerry Payne. 

Said Mattoon football coach Jarad Kimbro: “It is the kids’ rival. I have been around long enough now that the kids know. There is no extra hype. The kids are 100 percent ready to go. That is an easy thing, motivation-wise, to keep up this week.”

Each team is 1-5 this season.

Mattoon is coming off a 27-7 loss to Lincoln, while Charleston snapped an eight-game losing streak dating back to a 34-28 win over Taylorville on Oct. 1, 2021. The Trojans beat the Tornadoes last Friday as well, 27-8. 

“It (the win) boiled down to we finally got into a situation where we executed at all levels and every aspect,” said Payne. “That was the big key for us. That helps us a little bit. It gives us that edge that we are needing against Mattoon. It is going to help us be fired up a little bit more, but we were going to be fired up for this game anyway.”

As for Mattoon’s Homecoming win, Kimbro said: “We came out and scored right out of the game. We got a stop and we had a lot of momentum coming right of the gate. If we can just sustain that and give ourselves a chance. We managed to shoot ourselves in the foot. We were going down to tie the game and threw an interception on the two. It is things like that are just inevitable for us this year. We just can’t keep shooting ourselves in the foot. It is not for lack of effort. We just seem to have bad timing when it comes to mistakes.”

One thing that used to be true for the Clash was that it was one of few, if not the only, game, the two teams played on turf. Mattoon, though, now has its own turf field.

“We have played every game on turf, and I think we have an advantage because of that,” said Mattoon quarterback Slater Trier. “I don’t see much difference between turfs when running on it.”

Mattoon named the clash trophy Roxanne last season. It sat on a bench during practice Thursday with players coming by to look at it or touch the top of it. 

“I have played since fifth grade and we played Charleston in JFL,” said Riley Spencer, a senior defensive end/tackle. “It is always something you look forward to even in the JFL. If you are going to beat anybody in that season, that is who you are going to beat, Charleston – and it is like that every year. This year it is even more special because I am a senior. Playing in a big stadium – and the numbers are insane with twice as many people watching you – it is a different atmosphere.”

Last year 7,000 people attended. 

“It is going to be an awesome atmosphere,” said Kimbro. “It reminds me a lot of when I played at Eastern. We had crowds that were probably not even that big. It is a great experience for the kids to have. To go there and play on a college field and have that many people watching is great. We will be on the east sideline so there won’t be many fans there, but it will be awesome to look and see the crowd across the field.”

The two teams have played four common opponents in Lincoln, Collinsville, Effingham and Taylorville. In those four games, Charleston averages 13.5 points per game compared to Mattoon’s 6.8. Defensively, the Trojans allow an average of 23.5 points per game compared to the Green Wave’s 29.5.

“Ever since last year, I have been dreaming of beating Mattoon,” said Charleston senior center Owen Gerdes. I have been dreaming of beating Mattoon. It makes me sick to say the word Mattoon. It is a big game, and I can’t wait.”

Added Trier: “Getting that trophy for another year would really mean a lot to me. This is our big game of the year. It is what we look forward to, probably even more than the playoffs.”

Here is the preview for tonight’s game: 

TEAM RECORDS: Mattoon (1-5, 1-3) vs. Charleston (1-5, 1-3)

PAST RESULTS: In last year’s Clash on Oct. 8, Mattoon nipped Charleston 32-27 as Darius White caught a pass in the left corner of the end zone after grabbing it over a Charleston defender for the go-ahead touchdown. Jackson Spurgeon threw the pass with 5:35 left in the game as the Green Wave came back from a 14-0 deficit. Spurgeon was 13-of-20 for 194 and had 14 carries for 68 yards. Landon King had an interception return for a touchdown for the Trojans and Nate Shrader’s 12-yard run put CHS ahead 27-26 in front of an announced crowd of 7,000. It was the closest game since 1984 when Charleston nipped Mattoon 20-18. Mattoon leads the series overall 22-5-1. After nearly a four-decade hiatus the Coles County Clash returned in 2012. Mattoon has won eight of the 10 games since then.

TICKETS: Sold at the entrance to O’Brien Stadium

SCHOOL SIZES: Mattoon 929, Charleston 796

KICKOFF: 7 p.m., O’Brien Stadium, Eastern Illinois University

WEATHER: 52 degrees with a real feel of 46, winds out of the north at 13 mph, gusting to 20.  By 9 p.m., 47 with a real feel of 42 winds at 8 mph with gusts to 15 and no chance of rain. So bundle up.

CHARLESTON HISTORY: Charleston is coached by Jerry Payne, who was the freshman coach in 2012 for the Trojans and taught at Mattoon. Payne is currently 10-20 in his fifth season, while Mattoon is coached by longtime assistant Jarad Kimbro, who is in his first season. The Trojans’ last winning season was in 2012 when they went 9-2, making the second round of the Class 4A playoffs, while Mattoon’s last winning season was 2018 when the Green Wave made the second round of the Class 5A playoffs, going 7-4.

MATTOON’S RUSHING GAME: The top running back is senior Taeriek Grace (6-3, 205 pounds) with 80 carries for 360 yards and a touchdown.

“We have to put the ball in the end zone,” said Kimbro. “That is a no-brainer. Plus, we need to get the defense off the field so that they have an opportunity to get a break and give us some more points. We want to get the momentum going when we are on offense first or defense first. We have to get a stop when we are on defense, and drive down and get points when we are on offense. That is going to be one of the key factors. Sometimes, we have let downs after the first score. We want to make sure we keep our momentum going. Getting a stop or scoring first absolutely makes that easier going down through the course of the ball game.”

MATTOON’S PASSING GAME: Trier (5-10, 150 junior) is 52-of-125 for 649 yards with 9 interceptions and 5 TDs. He has also played safety. The offense averages 11.7 points per game, while allowing 33.5. The leading receiver is junior Owen Hawkins (5-11, 175) with 23 catches for 317 yards and three touchdowns, while senior Logan Blackburn (5-5, 130) has 14 for 172 yards and two touchdowns.

MATTOON’S DEFENSE: Junior Aiden Blackburn (5-8, 140) and sophomore Cale Kimbro (6-2, 175) are the leading tacklers, averaging 5.6 and 5.4 per game, respectively.

CHARLESTON’S RUSHING GAME: Jeremiah Hayes leads the team with 178 yards on 37 carries and a touchdown through five games. QB Brett Spour (5-9, junior) has 129 yards on 37 carries with two touchdowns in five games.  

CHARLESTON’S PASSING GAME: Through five games Spour completed 54 of 100 passes for 569 yards and 5 TDs with 4 INTs. Luke Nelson (6-2 junior) has 15 receptions for 196 yards in six games, while Luke Bonstetter had 13 catches in five games for 149 and 2 TDs. 

CHARLESTON’S DEFENSE: The Trojans held Taylorville to eight points, the fewest points allowed by CHS since April 23, 2001 during a 27-7 win over Mattoon – a string of 15 games. 

WHAT KIMBRO SAID: “They have a good running back and their quarterback delivers the ball well. We are going to have to have our coverage on point. Charleston is going to give it their best shot. They are well coached. They play hard and are a physical team. Like every week we are going to get everybody’s best shot and we are going to give everybody our best shot. It should be a good ball game. We have to play physical up front and try and stop their defense. They score points against teams that are not usually scored on. We have to make sure we have got ourselves dialed in and read our keys and do our job.” 

WHAT PAYNE SAID: “ I think moral-wise, a win would be a big lift. If we can win, then it’s going to help us going into the Mt. Zion game – and they are a good team. It will give us that extra step. Going 2-0 is better than 1-1.”

As for Mattoon, Payne said, “We know that coach Kimbro is very good. He has been with them for a long time. He coaches them well. We have seen them do some good things on film. We have to do our jobs. A big word for us this year has been execution. We lacked in it early in the season. Now things are starting to click a little bit. That is what it has to be for us is execution for us. Just hang in there and compete and see what happens.”