PBL football seeks to clinch a playoff berth as it faces Watseka on the road

WATSEKA -- The Paxton-Buckley-Loda football team is trying to move on after its loss last Friday to Clifton Central.
 
"Obviously, that one is a hard one to swallow," PBL head coach Jeff Graham said. "We didn't play very well, and they played great. It's over. There's nothing you can do about it. We can't sit back and feel sorry for ourselves. We have to get back after it and work hard. We still have two games here in the regular season to take care of."
 
The first of those two games will take place at 7 p.m. Friday on the road against Watseka.
 
The Warriors (4-3, 2-2 Sangamon Valley Conference) will host PBL (5-2, 3-1) after beating Seneca 22-16 last Friday via a last-minute touchdown after Anthony Quinn hit Justin Bunting on a touchdown pass with 25 seconds left.
 
"It was a huge win for us," Hilgendorf said. "Hopefully, we can carry that momentum and start playing better and doing the things that we expect to be able to do."
 
The Panthers' loss to Clifton Central snapped a five-game winning streak.
 
"They've been playing really well this year. I know they lost last week to Clifton (Central), but they've got a lot of weapons. They're well-coached. I'm looking forward to the matchup," Hilgendorf said. "It should be a good football game. We're looking forward to the challenge. I know PBL is going to be ready to play coming off a loss, so we're going to have to be at our best to compete with them."
 
Watseka lost 46-14 to Clifton Central (5-2, 4-0) in week six after playing the Comets to a scoreless tie through the first quarter before Clifton Central took a 24-7 lead into halftime.
 
"I know the game they played against Clifton Central was tied for a long time, and they remind me a lot of Clifton Central," Graham said. "Watseka's a good team. They're very similar to Clifton Central." 
 
Quinn went 9-for-18 for 83 passing yards against Clifton Central.
 
"He throws it right on the money," Graham said. "They throw the ball a lot, and we have our hands full this week."
 
In a 29-6 loss in week five to Dwight/Gardner-South Wilmington, Quinn passed for 150 yards while Justin McTaggart had 41 rushing yards on 18 carries and Bunting had four receptions for 72 yards.
 
On opening night, Watseka defeated Oakwood 20-14 as Quinn passed for 87 yards, McTaggart rushed for 127 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries and Blake Castonguay had five receptions for 66 yards.
 
In week two, Watseka lost 16-8 to Salt Fork as Quinn had 135 passing yards, McTaggart rushed for 65 yards and Castonguay had four receptions for 57 yards and one touchdown.
 
In a 35-14 win in week three over Momence, Quinn passed for 153 yards and three touchdowns while McTaggart ran for 90 yards and one touchdown and Bunting caught three passes for 66 yards and a score. In a 30-0 victory the following week over Oblong, Quinn passed for 202 yards and two touchdowns while Cluver ran for 85 yards and a touchdown on seven carries and Conner Curry had five receptions for 86 yards and two touchdowns.
 
"Castonguay is a really good receiver, probably one of the best receivers in the conference," Graham said. McTaggart has been around for a long time, too. Three of their skill athletes are seniors who have been around. Quinn's a senior. Castonguay and McTaggart are really good, but you can't just focus on them because then they've got other receivers. Bunting, (Brayden) Haines and Cluver can all catch the ball. They spread the ball around and do a nice job. They run good, crisp routes, and they're well-coached."
 
Mason Ecker had a touchdown reception for PBL in its loss to Clifton Central. Prior to the loss, he had a team-high 329 receiving yards on 11 catches with four touchdowns through the first six weeks of the season.
 
"Ecker is a heck of an athlete," Hilgendorf said.
 
T.J. Jones also scored on a touchdown run last Friday for the Panthers. Prior to Friday, he had 983 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns.
 
"He's a heck of a running back. It'll be a challenge for us in the running game," Hilgendorf said. "They're always good up front. Their offensive and defensive lines always impress us."
 
One more win makes Watseka eligible for the playoffs.
 
"They're going to be up for the game, obviously. It's going to be at their place," Graham said. "There's a lot at stake, and they're just a good team. I wouldn't be fooled by their three losses. They're physical. They're fast. They execute. They don't make mistakes. It's just a good ballclub."
 
According to the IHSA's playoff outlook, Watseka is 26th-ranked in Class 2A with 30 tiebreaker points.
 
"We just want to worry about one game (at a time), and the playoffs will take care of itself," Hilgendorf said.
 
For PBL, one more win clinches its fifth consecutive playoff berth. The Panthers are ranked 16th in Class 3A, according to the IHSA's playoff outlook, with 34 tiebreaker points.
 
"We have to get back to basics," Graham said. "There are a lot of things we learned that were obviously exposed last week, and that's my fault. For some of that to be allowed to happen -- our non-executing items that we saw -- is my fault, plain and simple. It just can't be that way. You've got to be in the right spot. You've got to execute. 
 
"You can't make mistakes if you want to win, especially at this point in the season. In weeks seven, eight and nine, you can't make mistakes and expect to win."
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