The La Salle-Peru football players are ready to hit someone.
Someone other than themselves, that is.
Friday night at Bob Reade Field in Geneseo, the Cavaliers will take the field after not playing in a competitive high school football game for two weeks.
Last Friday, L-P was the beneficiary of a 1-0 forfeit victory against Ottawa, which is currently in a teachers' strike that cost the Pirates' their game against L-P and this week's game against Morris.
Now Geneseo welcomes the well-rested Cavaliers to town at 7:30 p.m. on Friday for a match-up of two of the four first-place teams in the NCIC Reagan Division.
"We came out (Tuesday) and we were going to go crank it up a little bit and go live a lot, get the hitting back, get the tempo back. I think we've created that," La Salle-Peru head football coach Joe Sassano said. "It's a big game, there's no question about it. I know the community knows all the history and stuff, but our focus is really simple. We want to be 6-1 on Friday night when we get back on that bus."
Before the bye week, L-P (5-1, 3-1 in NCIC Reagan) was rolling, showcasing a stingy defense and a potent offense in blowout wins over Streator and Dixon in Weeks 3 and 4, respectively.
In both games, L-P got its passing game going behind senior quarterback Sam Renk, who had his best game of the season two weeks ago against the Dukes, throwing for 199 yards and two touchdowns while also running for two touchdowns.
Last week because of the forfeit there was nothing. Did it kill the momentum?
The Cavaliers do not seem too worried about the week off creating problems on offense, in fact, they see it as a chance to get healthy for the stretch run.
"It's going to be good for some of us because a lot of hurt players are getting back," said senior tight end Mike Bergagna, who is L-P's leading receiver with 118 yards and a touchdown. "We're just going to come back and hit them."
L-P has a lot of options to hit when Geneseo (5-1, 3-1) is on offense.
The Maple Leaf offense is guided by senior quarterback Michael Atwell, but the bread and butter of the team resides in the backfield.
Senior backs Jason Johnson, Collin Akers and Luke Lembke have been a handful this season for Geneseo.
Johnson did the most damage last week against the Dukes, running for 160 yards and two touchdowns in the Leafs' 26-0 win. Johnson is the team's rushing leader in a very balanced attack as he has piled up 383 yards and four touchdowns on the year.
"I went up with Mike (Bergagna) on Friday to watch them play, and he's a bull, but I think our defense is there to stop him all over," L-P senior linebacker Brock Pezanoski said of Johnson. "Everybody's getting healthy, and I think it is going to be a good game."
Geneseo's ground game has been rolling to the tune of more than 750 yards in the last two games combined.
Akers is second on the team in rushing with 374 yards and three touchdowns, while Lembke has 344 rushing yards, but he is Geneseo's go-to guy in the red zone with nine rushing touchdowns this year.
"We've had different running backs getting hot," Geneseo head coach Larry Johnsen said. "This past couple games, fullback Jason Johnson has gotten going, prior to that Luke Lembke and Collin Akers have gotten going, so the running game is firing pretty good right now."
Lembke is also a threat at punt returner.
He had a 58-yard punt return for a touchdown last week against Dixon, and he had a 64-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Cavaliers last season.
"We don't have superstars by any stretch of the imagination," Johnsen said. "What we do have are players who are playing pretty good right now."
They'll need to keep playing that way to keep their 29-game winning streak against the Cavaliers, who haven't knocked off the Maple Leafs since they entered the NCIC in 1981.
L-P's last win over Geneseo overall came in a 63-0 victory in 1919.
The past two years alone, the Cavaliers have had their best shots at beating Geneseo.
L-P lost 3-0 in 2007 in a heated defensive struggle in Geneseo, and then in the first round of the playoffs later that year, the Cavaliers scored first in overtime but ended up falling 28-21 in double overtime to the Leafs also in Geneseo.
The heartbreaker came a year ago when L-P held a 24-6 lead early in the second half but couldn't shut the door in a 32-24 loss on Homecoming at L-P.
The focus now is closing, which L-P hopes to do Friday.
"You've got to learn how to close. You've got to learn how to win. You've got to learn how to finish a game for 48 minutes," Sassano said. "We've played with them. We just haven't been able to finish them off. This team has got the confidence that it takes to be able to finish people off."
Jim Cogdal can be reached at 223-3200, ext. 139, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.