MACKINAW -- Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley is entering not-so-unfamiliar territory in Friday's regular-season finale.
The Falcons will visit Deer Creek-Mackinaw for the first time since 2011. It will be their first game played on Dee-Mack's new artificial turf field.
"It's an opportunity to get over there and play on their turf for the first time," GCMS head coach Mike Allen said.
Over the past two years, GCMS went 5-0 on artificial turf, including two state championship games.
"I think it's easier going from grass to turf than it is going from turf to grass," Allen said. "It's exciting. We love playing on it, but personally, I like playing on natural grass."
The Falcons will also be facing a team with a different strategy than what they had been accustomed to over the last few weeks.
"We get to see a running team. We've been seeing a lot of passing teams lately, so it's going to be nice to go over there and see more of a running team," Allen said.
Through their first seven games, Dee-Mack (2-6, 1-3 Heart of Illinois Large Division) had 1,050 rushing yards, compared to 292 passing yards.
Junior fullback Karson Eccles is the Chiefs' leading rusher with 591 yards and five touchdowns on 251 carries.
"He's a stud on both sides of the ball. He moves well," Allen said. "They love to run the trap, and when he gets free in the middle, he's fast. He has some good speed."
The Falcons (7-1, 3-1) clinched a playoff spot two weeks ago. According to the IHSA's playoff outlook, the Falcons are ranked fifth in Class 2A.
Meanwhile, Dee-Mack has been eliminated from the playoffs.
"Obviously, we will be underdogs in this game," Dee-Mack head coach Job Linboom said. "We are hoping to compete and not get blown out. We have been so impressed with how GCMS has reloaded from last year. I never would have thought they would finish the year at 8-1, considering how many great players they graduated from last year's team, but here they are, as formidable as ever."
Therefore, for the Chiefs' 12 seniors, Friday's senior-night game will serve as the last of their careers.
"Senior night is always an emotional night, so they're going to be ready to play their final game of the season," Allen said. "They're going to try to play spoiler and take a game from us, and we have to be prepared."
The previous week, Dee-Mack lost 49-0 to Tri-Valley (4-4, 2-2).
"Our motivation is to play better than we did last week against Tri-Valley," Linboom said. "We are hoping to at least be competitive in the game. It will be senior night at our place, so we are going to try and play and coach our best for them."
The Falcons will counter Dee-Mack's running game with a defense that held El Paso-Gridley to minus-51 offensive yards, including minus-62 yards on the ground, in its 27-0 win last Friday.
It was the second straight game in which GCMS produced a shutout, and the third shutout of the season.
"Our defense has played outstanding all season. They're getting to the ball," Allen said. "Some of the things we didn't do well earlier in the season, we're doing well now. Our linebacker play has been outstanding these last couple of games. We're excited about where our defense is."
El Paso-Gridley had the ball for only 16 minutes.
"When you keep a team's offense off the field, that is great. It keeps your defense fresh," Allen said. "We hope to continue doing what we're doing."
On offense, GCMS has a running game of its own.
While Isaiah Chatman led the Falcon offense with 102 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries, Aidan Laughery had 11 carries for 56 yards and two rushing touchdowns.
"It's no secret that everything Gibson City does starts with their wonderful tailback Aidan Laughery," Linboom said. "Last year against us, when Gibson City subbed him in for their all-state tailback Jared Trantina after racing out to an early lead, I thought, well, maybe we can tackle the freshman.
"Little did I know that the freshmen would turn out to be even faster. He's the fastest kid in the conference, but he also makes great cuts and is hard to bring down. He is the best sophomore running back I've ever seen at this level."
Cade Elliott went 11-of-16 passing for 111 yards for GCMS last Friday while Payton Kean finished with 43 yards on eight carries and one 14-yard catch.
"The quarterback, Cade Elliott, has proven himself a very capable passer," Linboom said. "Their fullback, Payton Kean, is very quick as well, and their guards and tackles pull very well on their signature counter trey. In short, we think they have a lot of weapons, on offense and defense."