Ottawa coach Chad Gross wrapped up his postgame talk last Friday night with a little, two-letter word that perked up his Pirates — L-P.
"I just said, 'We're on to L-P,' and it did give (the kids) a little smile, a bright spot," Gross said, "even though we were down after a loss (to Kankakee)."
Longtime archrivals Ottawa and La Salle-Peru will renew acquaintances out on the gridiron for the 119th time this Friday night at majestic Howard Fellows Stadium to open up the final year of Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference West Division play. L-P leads the all-time series — which dates back to 1898 — 63-50-5 and has won three consecutive.
The Pirates enter the contest 0-3. The Cavaliers are 2-1, with back-to-back wins over Bartonville Limestone (41-18) and East Moline United Township (35-0) following a season-opening defeat to Morton (23-0).
"They have to be sky high coming into our game," Gross said of the Cavs. "I mean, they have to know that they can play with anybody on their schedule. You know, they were right there with Morton, a very good ballclub. Defensively, they pretty much shut Morton down. ...
"Offensively, they execute well in what they do. I think they have established their identity that they're going to play very good defense."
L-P's triple-option attack is churning out 183 yards per game on the ground, with fullbacks Nick Krolak (30 carries, 129 yards, TD) and Justin Story (37-126-1) doing the bulk of the damage. The Pirates are giving up 258.3 ypg rushing.
"It's a traditional power football style of offense," Gross said. "They have a stable of backs. They have some size up front, and they move well. They don't throw it a ton (quarterback Jakob Kupperschmid is 6-of-14 passing for 141 yards and a touchdown), but when he does, he's accurate throwing the ball.
"The triple option, you have to have 11 kids doing just their job in order to be successful defending (it). It's a tough offense to defend. We have our hands full."
"We want to make sure that we establish our run game first; that's kind of our main goal right now," Cavaliers coach Jose Medina said.
A stout L-P defense — led by a trio of third-year varsity veterans: inside linebacker Zach Hartman, defensive end Cole Lynch and outside linebacker Pat Zimbelman — is allowing 211.7 ypg (129.7 on the ground, 82 through the air). The Pirates are averaging 238.3 ypg (195 rushing, 43.3 passing).
Tray Fisher has gained 513 yards on 63 carries and scored six touchdowns, including a couple of kickoff returns.
"Defensively, they look very good alignment-wise," Gross said. "Their D-line looks very solid; they seem to get after the quarterback a little bit. Linebacker-wise, they're sideline to sideline and making a lot of tackles. Their DBs, they all look fundamentally sound. So you don't see any real weaknesses on each level of their defense.
"We're going to try to establish the run — try to get Tray going early — and, hopefully that'll open up a little bit of our passing game. We just have to take care of the ball."
"It's an offense that, if you give them time, they're going to pick you apart and put some points up, and I think they're going to be a pretty good challenge for us to stop," Medina said. "Contain Fisher and just create some pressure on (Ottawa sophomore QB Brett Galletti), that'll be our biggest task."
Ottawa is in the midst of a 10-game losing skid — tied for the longest in program history (1974-75).
"I feel like (this game is) coming at a good time for us," Gross said, "and I feel like it's giving the kids a chance to just press restart right now on the season and we can start fresh from here on out.
"I told them, obviously the first third of the season didn't go like we wanted it to, but we're starting conference, and what better way to start it than get a chance to go beat your rival at their place?"
Ottawa Pirates (0-3, 0-0) at La Salle-Peru Cavaliers (2-1, 0-0)
Game time: 7:15 p.m. Friday at Howard Fellows Stadium, Peru.
Radio: JACK-FM 95.3, WLWF-FM 96.5.
Last meeting: La Salle-Peru 17, Ottawa 7 (2017).
All-time series: L-P leads 63-50-5.