MOWEAQUA — Central A&M coach Brent Weakly knows exactly how big his team's Class 1A quarterfinal game against Argenta-Oreana is.
It's been quite some time since the Raiders hosted a quarterfinals game — it was 2001, and Weakly was on the team.
"I remember that one well," Weakly said. "It is really great for the kids to get an opportunity to play in front of the home crowd and it will be a pretty good atmosphere to play a football game in front of."
That 2001 game against the now-defunct co-op Sciota Northwestern-LaHarpe featured Weakly splitting running back and tight end duties for the Raiders and current St. Teresa coach Mark Ramsey coaching the team on its way to a Class 2A second-place finish at state.
As the Raiders coach, Weakly inherited a team that was 0-9 in 2014 and has seen steady improvement each season leading to this year's 8-3 record and two playoff victories.
"When we started this year we said we wanted to be 7-2 or 8-1 and have a chance to make the quarterfinals, so I guess we are where we wanted to be," he said. "But I hope we aren't satisfied with where we are at and we know what we are up against. We played (Argenta) twice last year, and so we know how good those guys are and we know we are going to have to perform at our very best to be successful."
The Raiders beat the Bombers in Week 2 last season in a double-overtime thriller 48-42, but were beaten 56-12 in the first round of the playoffs last season.
This year's Bombers team enters undefeated at 11-0 and are led by quarterback Josh Williams and the Stanley brothers — receiver Makail and running back Makhi — they are averaging nearly 46 points a game.
"Argenta puts you in a lot of bad positions and they have a lot of great athletes and their offensive line is really good," Weakly said. "(Josh Williams) is as good as we have seen and we know we will have our hands full."
The Raiders' defense enters on a high after shutting out Albion Edwards County last Saturday 27-0. Inside linebackers Gus McCoy and Connor Hutchins helped limit the Lions' leading rusher Martin Schmittler to just 47 yards.
"When we went down there, they were really big and we knew our defense had to step up," Hutchins said. "I felt like we shut down the run pretty well and it turned out pretty good for us. I think our inside six really stepped up and it was one of the better games we have had."
McCoy, who is also the Raiders leading rusher with 719 yards and 9 touchdowns, believes last week's game can carry over to the quarterfinals.
"Last week gave us a lot of confidence going into this week's game," he said. "We've been on a winning streak for quite a few weeks now so I think last week really helped us with the shutout.
"This week everybody is going to have to rally to the ball whenever they get outside and I think we have been pretty good on the perimeter tackling and open field tackling. Everything has been really good this year."
The pair are masters of securing the tackle for a loss — Hutchins has 10 on 84 tackles and McCoy has nine on 88 tackles.
"Those are the guys that get us set defensively up front and they are primarily the run stoppers," Weakly said. "The past couple of weeks that they done a really good job of that and hopefully that continues."
The Raiders' secondary has also snagged 11 interceptions this year and will be tested against Argenta.
"There is a reason (the Bombers) are ranked No. 4 (in the last AP poll)," Weakly said. "Offensively we can't turn it over and defensively we are going to have to come up with stops. We've got to get them to third down and get them off the field."
Central A&M is one of three Central Illinois Conference teams still alive in the playoffs, along with St. Teresa and Tuscola. The high-caliber opponents have the Raiders ready.
"The CIC is just like the old Okaw conference and I think it does a really good job of preparing you," Weakly said. "It is a meat grinder week in and week out. There are a lot of good coaches and good teams, and it has been good for our kids to play against competition like that."