By Paul Hines
MT. VERNON —
Jared Shaner's Rams football team has had plenty of difficult tests throughout the season.
Mt. Vernon opened with perennial powerhouse Rochester and ended it against one-loss Mt. Carmel. In the middle of the season, the Rams pushed South Seven Conference champion Marion to overtime.
Saturday afternoon the Rams face another powerful opponent – Washington. The Panthers enter the matchup champions of the Mid-Illini Conference and owners of a perfect 10-0 record. The unblemished run helped the Panthers rise to the No. 5 ranking in class 5A.
“You don't accidentally go 10-0, and they've been beating some good football teams,” Shaner said. “But we deserve to be here too. We've done what we've needed to do.”
The home matchup is the first in the playoffs for Mt. Vernon since 2007 when the Rams beat Cahokia in the opening round.
“It's big for us to get another game at home,” Shaner said. “I know the kids were very excited about that possibility, knew that if we could get a win in round one then it would be home in round two.
“We've played well at home all year and so it will be nice to hopefully play good there again.”
The Rams finished the regular season 3-1 in the friendly confines of J.D. Shields Memorial Stadium. The lone loss came in overtime against Marion.
“Other than that we've played pretty good,” Shaner said of the home games. “And I just think it will be exciting. It will be a fun atmosphere.”
Washington enters the round of 16 after a 31-21 win over Peoria. Running back Casey Danley gouged Peoria for nearly 200 yards, and quarterback Colton Marshall had 117 passing yards.
“They're more run heavy, but they can definitely throw the ball,” Shaner said. “Their quarterback (Marshall) is good, like a lot of the ones we've faced.
“You can tell (Danley) is a pretty special kid. He's got a mixture of size and speed and athleticism and toughness.”
The Rams are in the second round of the postseason after a wild upset win in Mattoon. Mt. Vernon scored and converted a two-point conversion with 8.1 seconds left. The late points gave the Rams a 43-42 win.
Saturday's game starts at 1:30 p.m.