GIBSON CITY -- The anticipation is high for the week-two matchup between the high school football teams at Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley and Eureka.
The host Falcons go into the contest on a 29-game winning streak, during which they won the 2017 and 2018 Class 2A state championships. The Associated Press voted GCMS as the No. 1-ranked team in 2A.
"When you spend two years playing against a state champion, you know you've got a great game coming up, for sure," Eureka head coach Jason Bachman said. "It's one of the reasons why we play and one of the reasons why I coach -- to play in games like this."
Meanwhile, Eureka went into its season opener as the third-ranked team in Class 3A.
"They're there for a reason," GCMS head coach Mike Allen said. "We hope there's a big crowd out there. It's a big matchup, so hopefully, we'll have a lot of fans there supporting the kids. That'll be great to see."
Eureka returned a lot of key players from last year. The Hornets went 9-2 last year, advancing to the second round of the Class 3A playoffs.
"They're a very good team," Allen said. "We have to match their intensity and play our game and play one play at a time. For 48 minutes, we're going to have to play football and play up to our best ability."
The two teams have met in each of the past three years since Eureka joined the Heart of Illinois Conference in 2016, with the Falcons claiming a victory each time, including 41-7 and 41-12 scores in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
"We'll hopefully give them a good fight on Friday night," Bachman said. "Hopefully, it's going to be a good game. Mike Allen can put together a good team. They're very well-coached. To have that challenge is awesome. It's something we look forward to every year."
Despite GCMS losing nine defensive starters and seven starters on offense from last year's team, Bachman said he did not notice a huge dropoff in talent when he watched film of the Falcons' 32-8 win over Paxton-Buckley-Loda last Friday.
"I would say they're pretty similar," Bachman said. "GCMS has a ton of athletes and a lot of kids who can play ball."
The Falcons overcame an 8-7 halftime deficit last Friday with a 25-0 advantage in the second half, thanks in part to three touchdown runs by GCMS sophomore tailback Aidan Laughery, who finished the game with 124 yards on 17 carries.
"Laughery kind of took over that game in the second half," Bachman said. "PBL played with them a little bit, and then in the second half, they kind of did what GCMS does."
Bachman said he was also impressed with GCMS senior fullback Payton Kean, as well as quarterback Payton Kean and the offensive line.
"He's a solid player," Bachman said. "Their quarterback seems to get the job done when they need him to. They replaced a bunch of guys up front, but they did that pretty well."
Like Eureka, PBL also reached the second round of the 3A playoffs last year.
"PBL's a good football team and a good program, so to be able to do what they did to them is kind of what good programs do," Bachman said. "They reload. They don't rebuild. They just reload and keep rolling."
It will be the second time GCMS faced a 3A team when it plays against Eureka in week two.
"It is a tough challenge, but it's going to prepare us for the rest of the schedule and should help us down the stretch to be able to play good teams like that," Allen said.
One of the things that makes Eureka a big challenge, Allen said, is the size of its offensive line, which averages about 6-foot-2 and 220-plus pounds across the front five.
"They're big. They're athletic. Their reach is going to be one thing that concerns us," Allen said. "We're going to have to use our athleticism and not let them get their hands on us on either side of the ball."
Eureka quarterback Matt Martin threw for four touchdowns while completing 16-of-23 passes for 257 yards in the Hornets' 28-0 victory over LeRoy.
"He has a tremendous arm and great scrambling abilities," Allen said. "He gets away from a lot of tacklers."
"I was pretty happy with our passing game," Bachman added. "I feel like our running game will need to be a little better. We've got stuff to work on, but I was happy with how our passing game has evolved over the past couple of years."
Junior 6-foot-1 wideout Aden Sears caught two of those touchdown passes. Allen knows Martin has some big targets receiving his passes.
"He has receivers that he can throw it up to," Allen said. "They have a height advantage out there. (Martin) keeps plays alive and moves around in the pocket and has a great arm."
The Hornets run a spread offense with multiple formations and motions.
"Coach Augspurger will have his kids ready. They just throw a lot at you, and we have a lot to prepare for," Allen said.
Last Friday, PBL's Gunner Belt threw for 119 yards and one touchdown while completing seven of his 18 pass attempts.
"We have to do a better job of getting under their offensive line and fighting off double teams. We have to put pressure on the quarterback this week," Allen said. "We can't allow him sit back there for five seconds looking for a receiver. That's too much to ask for our defensive backs."
Eureka, meanwhile, is hoping to have a more balanced offense.
"We've got to be able to run the ball better," Bachman said. "LeRoy did a great job and came up with a great game plan to kind of slow us down a little bit, but we've got to improve our run game."
Defensively, the Hornets' size helped them pitch a shutout against LeRoy.
"Their defense is stout," Allen said. "We'll have to fire off the ball, and our line did a great job of that in the second half, so we'll have to carry that over to this week and get off the ball and get to them before they get to us."
Allen is looking for a better passing game for his offense after GCMS quarterback Cade Elliott went 0-for-3 with two interceptions last Friday.
"We have to get better in our passing game," Allen said. "We did not give Cade a lot of time out there to throw. We forced him to make some throws earlier than he wanted to. We definitely have to improve in our passing game."
While they are facing GCMS, Bachman said he hopes his program can emulate the Falcons in the near future.
"We're looking forward to the challenge," Bachman said. "In the two years, those kids have grown underneath the leadership of the kids who have come before them, and that's someplace we want to be. Hopefully, we'll come in and have a good fight."