ROCKTON- A quick glance at Hononegah's record (7-0) and position in the NIC-10 (alone at the top) would indicate smooth sailing for the Indians.
A look at the injury list would tell another story. The unbeaten and virtually unchallenged Indians' win over Auburn Saturday took a physical toll that head coach Brian Zimmerman said he'd never seen in 26 years.
Star running back Isiah Richardson, who was a virtual lock to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark, is out with an ankle injury for the foreseeable future.
Defensive back Jalen Goodwine separated his shoulder and will likely miss Friday night's game against 1-6 Jefferson.
Sophomore linebacker Antonio Figueroa, who had been playing outstanding football, tore his ACL and will miss the remainder of the season.
"As a coach, your biggest fear is losing key players near the end of the season," Zimmerman said. "I just feel really horrible for all these kids. And we've had guys that have been playing through injuries all season, really. It's going to be a challenge for us."
The Indians welcome in a J-Hawks team that Zimmerman said is more dangerous than their record might appear.
"They have been playing better of late," Zimmerman said. "They lost to East when one of their players dropped a pass in the end zone at the end of the game, so they really should've won last week. We can't go into this game thinking that we are facing a 1-6 team. We need to go into it thinking we need to get better as a team this week. That's been our philosophy heading into this three-week stretch where we played teams that didn't have great records. Next week, there won't be any problem with motivation."
That's because the Indians are set to face 7-1 Harlem. First things first, however: The Indians can clinch a share of their second straight NIC-10 title with a win Friday night.
• BELOIT TURNER (4-4) at EAST TROY (6-2): The Trojans are coming off their most disappointing loss in recent memory, a 46-7 blowout to Clinton.
It was the team's third straight defeat after opening the season with a 4-1 record. Coach Derek Diehl said the team must take a different approach in order to pick up that elusive fifth win.
"We just aren't the same team that started the year 4-1," Diehl said. "To look like that team is impossible. But that doesn't mean we can't go out there and get a win. East Troy doesn't dazzle you. They don't do fancy things, they power right at you. I have a lot of respect for their quarterback (Jake Dessart), who is one of the state's leading rushers, and a great kid, too."
Diehl said he's focused on making sure his team's mentality is on the right path as the team believes it has already essentially clinched a playoff berth with four wins.
"The excuses that we could use are out there," Diehl said. "We lost three football games in a row, all of which we felt we could have been in had we not been dealing with some issues. The real message here is that adversity happens to you in life all the time. There's two choices: Fight or flight. If you fly, it's always going to be there in front of you and you can't get past it. If you fight, you can power through it and you don't see it again. As of now, we are running from it. We need to put it behind us and move on, and we can do that with a win and some momentum heading into the playoffs."
• EDGERTON (7-1) at BIG FOOT (3-5): The Chiefs squandered an opportunity to essentially clinch a playoff berth last week against Brodhead-Juda. Now, in order to avoid missing the postseason again, the Chiefs must defeat the one-loss Crimson Tide.
Big Foot's passing attack was stymied by the Cardinals, and to have any chance against the powerful Cardinals, they must get off to a solid start.
• BRODHEAD-JUDA at MCFARLAND (8-0): The Cardinals' win over Big Foot kept them alive in the battle for a playoff berth, but to get there they must pull off a significant upset at undefeated McFarland.
Running back Jeffrey Williams needs 119 yards to reach 1,000 for the season. The Spartans have played just one close game all season. Otherwise, it's been blowout city for McFarland,a trend the Cardinals will have to buck if they are to avoid missing the postseason for the second straight season.
• EVASNVILLE-ALBANY (0-8) at CLINTON (2-6): The Cougars are coming off of their most uplifting victory of the season, a 46-7 trouncing of rival Beloit Turner.
The Blue Devils have lost five of their eight games by less than two touchdowns, and will no doubt be gunning hard for the Cougars in an effort to avoid a winless season.
• LIVING WORD LUTHERAN (6-2) at PARKVIEW (0-6): In order to avoid a second straight winless season, the Vikings will have to knock off a Living Word Lutheran team that has been successful in the Midwest Classic Conference despite an enrollment of just 185 students.
The Timber Wolves are led by MJ Woods, who has rushed for 840 yards this season.
Parkview has been led by Brayden Tracey, who has rushed for 716 yards and seven touchdowns.
• CHRIST THE KING (0-7) at SOUTH BELOIT (2-5): The SoBos will play Saturday at 1 p.m., and have an excellent opportunity to pick up their third win of the season.
The SoBos are coming off consecutive blowout defeats, but Christ the King has played just one close game all season: A 26-20 overtime loss in the season opener.
• OREGON (2-5) at NORTH BOONE (5-21: The Vikings are safely in the playoffs after crushing Rock Falls 49-18 last week.
Britton Morris is capping his terrific career with a season to remember. Morris threw for over 300 yards in the first half alone last week, and needs 136 more yards to get to 2,000 for the year.
Morris has been efficient as well, throwing for 20 touchdowns and just four interceptions.
Oregon has thrown for less than 200 yards total this season, and their ground attack has been less than formidable as well.