Photo by Diane Cox
EA-WR senior running back Chris Hamby works his way through the Centralia defense during Week 2, the Oilers’ first home game of the season. They play host to Prairie State Conference foe Mount Olive at 7 p.m. tonight.
The second part of the football season starts this weekend for the East Alton-Wood River High Oilers.
At least that’s how they are approaching it.
The Oilers, 0-2 after absorbing nonconference defeats to Columbia, 49-0, and Centralia, 44-16, begin their excursion into Prairie State Conference competition. They welcome Mount Olive on Friday and then entertain league opponent Bunker Hill on Sept. 18.
They hope it’s a new beginning.
“We just want the team to focus on competing in the conference and there’s no reason why we can’t do that,” first-year EA-WR head coach Garry Herron said. “We should be competing with those schools and we want to get to the point where we make them kick us out of the conference because we are too good for it.”
For the moment, they are searching for their first win and then a good landing in the Prairie. The Oilers only won one game last fall and it came against conference foe Metro East Lutheran via a forfeit.
Naturally, they want more than that this season. Marquette Catholic, Nokomis, Pawnee and Kincaid South Fork round out the conference. Each team plays seven league games.
“We’re hoping to get the ball rolling and come out with a win,” EA-WR running back Chris Hamby said of journey into Prairie play. “We need to come into conference play with a chip on our shoulder.
“I think our biggest goal the first two weeks of the season was to stay healthy because we are short on numbers.”
Despite the lopsided scores in their first two losses, the Oilers have demonstrated improvement the second half of each game. Columbia outscored them 6-0 in Week 1 and then outpointed Centralia 16-0 last Friday.
That’s a start in rebuilding the program and developing a shot of confidence, said Hamby, a 5-foot-10, 205-pound senior. He serves as a running back and linebacker.
“A lot of us remembered the game last year Centralia,” he said of a 28-0 defeat that ended abruptly following first-quarter lightning. “We didn’t come out as aggressively as we should have played against them tonight. We need to play our game, not their game.”
He added, “And beginning next week, that’s what we need to do for the rest of the season. We need to come out and play our game from the start of it.”
Hamby, Zach Kincade, T.J. Lawson, Zach Womack, plus quarterbacks Luke Wells and Justin Englar, gave the Oilers new life in the second half against Centralia. Englar, a 5-8, 135 sophomore, directed them on their pair of second-half scoring drives.
“We wanted to get Justin some snaps before our first conference game,” Herron said. “He did everything we wanted him to do. We’re working with him and Luke at quarterback.”
Improvement is on the horizon, if Herron has his way. It may be incremental gains, but he realizes revamping a football program takes time. EA-WR hasn’t experienced a winning season since going 6-4 and qualifying for the playoffs in 2006. The Oilers are a composite 12-60 the past eight years.
Centralia coach Ray Kauling knows what Herron is attempting to accomplish. It’s what he faced when taking over the Orphans’ program in 2009. He previously was at Breese Mater Dei.
“I think Centralia had lost something like 35 games in a row when I took the job,” Kauling said. “So I fully understand what he (Herron) is going through.”
The Orphans went 1-8 in Kauling’s first season, improved to 3-6 the second year, then shot to 8-2 the third season and qualified for the playoffs.
“You need to have patience. That’s the main thing,” Kauling said. “It’s a process and the first part of it is being able to compete.”
Herron figures the Oilers can do that once they dive into conference action.
“We have a lot of great kids,” he said. “We can’t dwell on bad things. We have to keep moving forward and for whatever reason, that’s something we haven’t been able to do in the past.”
A nonconference schedule change next season could work in the Oilers’ favor. EA-WR will welcome Dupo the opening week instead of Columbia. Then the Oilers go to Taylorville, not Centralia, during Week 2. The Orphans will play Morton the second week of the 2016 season.
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