By Mike Monahan

Marion, Mattoon’s opponent in the final game of the season for the Green Wave, is a team that feels it has to win to make the Class 5A playoffs.

“There are several scenarios that say all 5-4 teams will be in this year, but we are not buying into that,” said Marion coach Kerry Martin, who is 140-73 (.657). We feel this is a must-win. We have been in playoff mode since week 7 dealing with must-win games, and this is no different.”

It is Senior Night at Mattoon as the football players, band, cheerleaders and dance seniors will be honored prior to the game. There are 19 seniors on the football team.

“We are losing a ton,” said first-year Mattoon coach Jarad Kimbro. “They are great kids and have done a great job for the program. They will be hard to replace. We are trying to change a few things and they have led the charge for all of that. Every challenge we gave them, they answered head on. Hopefully they laid the foundation of what we are trying to build.”

Marion is coming off a 40-7 win over Carbondale, while Mattoon lost to the Associated Press Class 5A No. 3 team in the state, Mahomet-Seymour, by 47-14.

“Mattoon’s offense has a good balance of run and pass,” said Martin. “They have good skill kids and some really good players up front.  On defense, we see a very aggressive defense with great techniques. To a person, every coach on the staff said that this does not look like a 1-7 team at all. “

Marion runs the ball 80 percent of the time, according to Martin.

“They are big up front,” Kimbro said. “Everybody is within 10 yards of the ball and they try and run the ball straight over you where they have had quite a bit of success.”

Here is the preview for tonight’s game.

TEAM RECORDS: Marion (5-3) at Mattoon (1-7)

PAST RESULTS: Marion has beaten Mattoon four out of the five times they have played by an average score of 43.5 to 15.8. In last year’s game, the Wildcats won 59-8. Mattoon had scored first before Marion rolled off 30 straight points in the second quarter. The Green Wave had four turnovers and the Wildcats had 298 of their total 428 yards through the air.

TICKETS: Sold at the entrance to Gaines Field

SCHOOL SIZES: Marion 1,107, Mattoon 929

KICKOFF: 7 p.m., Gaines Field

WEATHER: 68 degrees with a real feel of 64 and winds from the south/southeast at 14-20 miles per hour. By 9 p.m. the temperature should be 65 with winds from 12-20 miles per hour from the south/southeast.

OPPONENT HISTORY: Marion has had 16 straight .500 or better seasons and 16 consecutive playoff appearances, including a Class 5A semifinal berth in 2007. They also made the playoffs six other times, including three in Class 3A. The Wildcats compete in the South Seven conference with Mt Vernon, Centralia, Cahokia, Belleville Althoff and Carbondale.

MARION’S RUSHING GAME: The Wildcats have 361 carries for 2,237 yards with 26 touchdowns and an average of 279.6 yards per game. Patrick Walker (5-7 190) leads Marion with 98 carries for 725 yards and seven touchdowns, while Jordan Beverly (6-0, 210) has the most touchdowns with 10 on 75 carries for 537 yards. Quarterback Evan Noelle (6-4, 190) has 67 carries for 426 yards and four touchdowns.

“Walker is our fastest back, Beverly has good speed and Noelle has shown the ability to run inside and outside,” said Martin

MARION’S PASSING GAME: Noelle is 40-of-97 for 472 yards with four touchdowns and nine interceptions. The top receivers are Tommy Wiseman (5-8, 170) with 11 receptions for 221 yard and two touchdowns, while Britton Powell (5-10, 160) has eight for 52 yards. The offense averages 30.1 points and has scored between 14 and 48 points.

MARION’S DEFENSE: The defense allows 24 points a game. The Wildcats have one shutout. The top tacklers are Beverly with 36 and Toxey Runn (6-1, 190) with 34. Maurice Marvin (6-2, 307) has a team-high four of the 13 quarterback sacks. Marion has six interceptions and six fumble recoveries.

“We are a 4-2 base, but we run variations based on our opponents offense, “ said Martin. “Our defensive line continues to be the anchor group”

Kimbro said their defense is familiar.

“It is something we see quite a bit and, for the most part, they have a similar defense to what we run,” said Kimbro.

MATTOON’S RUSHING GAME: Taeriek Grace, a 6-3, 205 senior, is the top running back with 92 carries for 442 yards and touchdown and did not play last week. The ground game has 225 carries for 893 yards and six touchdowns. Deaidin Arnold (6-0, 180) is next with 69 carries for 289 yards and three touchdowns.

MATTOON’S PASSING GAME: Trier is 62-of-145 for 812 yards with five touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Cale Kimbro (6-2, 175) had taken over the quarterback duties replacing Trier (5-10, 150 junior) who moved back to receiver, where he played last season for week seven and eight. The leading receiver is Owen Hawkins (5-11, 175 junior) with 32 catches for 426 yards and three touchdowns, while Logan Blackburn (5-5, 130 senior) has 16 for 191 yards and two touchdowns. The Green Wave have only been shutout once, but struggle offensively averaging 12.3 points per game with no more than 22 points in one game.

“Slater threw the ball real well,” said Kimbro. “Ownen took advantage of his opportunities catching all seven of his passes targeted for him. He had 116 yards receiving and a nice ball game.”

MATTOON’S DEFENSE: The MHS defense allows an average of 35.4 points. Aiden Blackburn (5-8, 140 junior) and Cale Kimbro (6-2, 175 sophomore) have 48.5 and 52 tackles. The defense averages one sack and one turnover per game. Aiden Blackburn (5-8, 140) leads in sacks with four. The Green Wave have recovered four fumbles and have four interceptions. 

WHAT MARION SAID: “We have to take care of the ball, limit our penalties, be physical and continue getting better.”

WHAT KIMBRO SAID: “We have to score in the red zone, one of the things that has been our Achilles heel for us. We play well from the 20 to the 20, but have a hard time punching it in. When the opportunity comes in the red zone, we have to make sure we score. We have to limit their touches and maximize our opportunities. We are trying to keep them out of the playoffs, and we are going to try and do everything we can to make sure that doesn’t happen and make the best of Senior Night. A win would be a big deal and give us a lot of momentum going into the offseason.”