BY CHAD DARE
Senior Aaron Hardimon believes tonight’s game with Normal Community is the biggest of his career.
That’s because the Danville Vikings, with a 4-3 overall record, know they need a win to keep their playoff hopes alive.
“I’ve never been on a team that didn’t make the playoffs,’’ said Hardimon, who has played in seven IHSA playoff games in the past two seasons. “We need to win our final two games to secure that playoff spot.’’
Danville is trying to reach the IHSA Class 6A playoffs for the seventh straight season.
“Now, the real test begins,’’ Danville coach B.J. Luke said. “We’ve gotten a little better every week and we feel good about where we are, right now.’’
On the other side, Normal Community is looking for its 17th straight playoff appearance and Ironmen, also 4-3, will also need two more wins to secure that playoff berth.
“This is a big game for both teams,’’ Danville junior Chris Collier said. “We’ve been fighting our way back into this position for the last three weeks, and we need to keep it going to keep our playoff hopes alive.’’
After winning just one of its first four games, Danville has won three straight, outscoring Decatur Eisenhower, Decatur MacArthur and Champaign Central 126-55.
“When we were 1-3, we sat down and took stock in ourselves,’’ Luke said. “We decided what we needed to do and the kids responded. We put ourselves into a position where we have two tough games where we are very capable.
“It should be a fun and entertaining end to the season.’’
And if past history is any indication tonight’s game with Normal Community will be exciting regardless the playoff implications.
The Vikings and the Ironmen have seen two of their last three meetings decided late in the fourth quarter.
A year ago, the Danville defense stopped Normal Community’s 2-point conversion attempt in the final minutes to preserve a 27-26 victory.
“Normal Community has always been tough,’’ Danville quarterback Trent Sherfield said. “Last year, they came back and we had to stop them at the end to get a victory.
“We’re going to need our very best effort to get a win this week.’’
And having a healthy Sherfield is also important.
The junior quarterback has been knocked out of the game the past two weeks with a bruised shoulder.
“I’m good,’’ he said. “I’ve been icing my shoulder all week and I’m good to go.
“This is Normal Community, there is no way that I missing this game.’’
Sherfield has been responsible for 2,134 of Danville’s 2,748 yards and he has scored 17 of his team’s 37 touchdowns this season.
But the biggest reason for the Vikings three-game winning streak has been the defensive improvement.
“Offensively, we’ve been producing similar to our past three teams,’’ said Luke, each of which reached the state quarterfinals. “But, defensively is where we have closed the gap a little bit.
“Now, we need to keep getting better to get the job done in the next two weeks.’’
After the loss to Normal West in Week 4, Danville was allowing 41 points and 372.8 yards a game.
In the past three weeks, those numbers have dropped to 31.3 points and 320.7 yards. The biggest improvement coming in its run defense, as Danville has held both MacArthur and Central to less than 100 yards.
“That’s definitely going to be tested this week,’’ said Luke, as Normal Community gained more than 200 yards on the ground in last week’s 31-0 win over MacArthur. “They are a big powerful team and they are going to try to run the ball down your throat.’’
Jowonis Edwards is the leading rusher for the Ironmen with 824 yards on the season, while quarterback Austin Jones led Normal Community last week with 88 yards on 12 carries.
Tonight’s game is senior night at Ned Whitesell Field with all senior members of the football team being honored before the game.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. and the game can be heard locally on WDAN-AM 1490.