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Mooseheart senior Sahr Mahoney has his jersey pulled by a North Shore Country Day defender. Mahoney broke free and raced to the opposite sideline and scored the Ramblers' winning touchdown. Mahoney and his teammates host Warren on Saturday, Oct. 26 in the opening round of the IHSA Class 1A playoffs.
North Shore Country Day's Matt Cook (No. 62) closes to make the tackle on Mooseheart senior QB Jon Hart in the regular-season finale.
MOOSEHEART, Oct. 22 - For the record, Mooseheart’s record is 8-1, and Warren is at 5-4, entering Saturday’s IHSA Class 1A playoff opener.
Everyone is aware that you can forget the records when the Ramblers and Warriors kick off for the 4 p.m. contest, the first meeting between the two schools.
But both teams are working hard to make sure they record victory in what could be an intriguing matchup.
“All that stuff like records goes to the wayside now,” Mooseheart coach Gary Urwiler said. “Everybody in the playoffs is going to be hungry. This is their first time in the playoffs in awhile. Our job is to uphold our No. 3 seed and our level of play that show that we are a contender in this postseason.”
Saturday’s kickoff has been decided to accommodate both Warren’s 125-mile drive from Jo Daviess County as well as Founders Day at Mooseheart. Founders Day celebrates the birthday of James J. Davis, the man whose vision was realized when Mooseheart was founded in 1913. Moose members from Ohio and Michigan will be in attendance on Saturday to further enhance a special atmosphere.
“We talk about it every game, how thankful we are at Mooseheart for the men and women of the Moose who continually give all that they have so we can do what we do,” Urwiler said. “They are so committed to bettering us. The way we can give back to them is to look down at our jerseys and see where it says ‘Mooseheart’ and to think of all that it means to be a Red Rambler and then to reciprocate that love they show for us.”
Mooseheart’s regular season games do not have an admission charge. However, the IHSA enforces an admission fee to all postseason contests. All tickets are $5.
Those unable to attend Saturday’s game have two ways to follow the action. One if via www.ihsa.tv , where a video feed will be available. The other is through WEKZ-AM 1260, based in Freeport. An online link can be found at www.wekz.com.
“We are hearing from people who are many states away watching us, and that is what we wanted when we started broadcasting games through ihsa.tv,” Urwiler said. “People 800 miles away and farther are getting a hold of us and telling us that they are following.”
In the game itself, Mooseheart plays a team that competes in one of the toughest small-school conferences in Illinois. The Northwest Division of the Northwest Upstate Illini Conference features Stockton, the top-ranked team in The Associated Press’ poll in Class 1A all year. Freeport Aquin, another NUIC member, is ranked second in that poll.
“I did some researching on them and they seem to be a pretty balanced team,” Urwiler said. “They ended up 5-4 in a very tough conference and we are not going to take that lightly.”
The Warriors are making their first playoff appearance since 2005. Coached by Shawn Teske, Warren improved from a 1-8 record in 2011 to qualify for this year’s playoffs. Key runners include Brady Raab and Caleb Cherry as well as quarterback Gavin Leverton. The Warriors can throw as well. Leverton has thrown for more than 1,200 yards.
Warren, 2-3 in midseason, needed wins in its final two regular-season games to become eligible for the postseason.
“Looking at the film, they don’t look as big as some of the teams we’ve played, but they have some key players we will want to watch,” Urwiler said. “Their quarterback is a good thrower and they’ll throw a bit. They don’t do anything we haven’t seen, but it’s up to us to be able to line against them and to stop them.”
Mooseheart earned the right to host a playoff game for the second consecutive season thanks to a 28-27 win over North Shore Country Day in the final game of the regular season. One year after completing a 9-0 regular season and winning the Northeastern Athletic Conference title, Mooseheart’s 8-1 record earned it second in the NAC this fall to conference newcomer Ottawa Marquette. Urwiler said his team won’t be making major changes to its game plan or personnel at this point of the season.
“The overall scheme is not going to change,” Urwiler said. “But it’s about fine-tuning your schemes. I think we showed the last couple of weeks of the season and even throughout the regular season, that we can run the ball successfully. Against North Shore, there came a time where we had to throw and there will come a time like that in the playoffs too. And we have shown we can throw.”
Of Mooseheart’s key players is senior Sahr Mahoney, who is a running back, wide receiver, kick returner, defensive back while also handling place kicking and punting duties. This season, Mahoney has excelled in facets of the game. He has gained 527 yards on 36 carries, has averaged 15.77 yards on 22 receptions and intercepted two passes against North Shore Country Day.
Defensively, Mahoney intercepted two passes against North Shore Country Day, including the pick-off that killed the Raiders’ final drive. Mahoney’s kickoff and punt return capabilities have caused teams to kick away from him. As a punter, Mahoney carries nearly a 40-yard average and 16 of his 49 kickoffs have been for touchbacks.
On a team that clearly has a number of weapons, Mahoney is one of the team’s most-potent threats.
“(Mahoney) is a quiet kid,” Urwiler said. “You’re recognizing an incredible player and a humble player a team player. At the beginning of the year, Oumaru (Abdulahi) was the featured player. About midway through the season, it kind of naturally worked that (Mahoney) started to get more opportunities. If you’re playing us, you have to be aware of where No. 32 is on the field.”
Abdulahi has been key to the Ramblers as well. He went over 1,000 yards rushing against North Shore Country Day despite missing two games this season through injury. Ramblers quarterback Jon Hart also missed a game this season, but has still thrown for 970 yards and 5 touchdowns.
A number of young Ramblers players get a chance for an extra week of practice as the team prepares for the Warren contest. Three freshmen and six sophomores are on the playoff roster, and a number of those players will see some playing time.
“The thing our younger players are going to get this year is a chance to see how we fine-tune,” Urwiler said. “The biggest thing they will get is a chance to feel the atmosphere from the Moose community and the campus. They will get to feel that they are a part of it, and we hope they will want to then have some ownership of it.”
Since its founding, Mooseheart has operated a complete, accredited kindergarten-through-high-school academic program, plus art, music, vocational training and interscholastic sports. It is an extremely nurturing and student-tailored program, with an average student-teacher ratio of 12-1.
Mooseheart students who complete their studies with a 3.0 GPA or better (4.0=A) are eligible for up to five years of annually renewable scholarship funding, covering tuition, room and board in an amount comparable to that required for an in-state student at an Illinois public university.
Mooseheart is currently home to roughly 200 students, ranging in age from preschoolers to high school seniors. Applications for admission to Mooseheart are considered from any family whose children are, for whatever reason, lacking a stable home environment. Mooseheart boasts its own U.S. Post Office and a fully functioning branch of Fifth Third Bank.
In addition to Mooseheart, Moose International also supports Moosehaven, a 70-acre retirement community near Jacksonville, FL founded in 1922; and conducts more than $70 million worth of community service programs annually.
IHSA Class 1A Playoff pairings
Games to be played Friday, Oct. 26 and Saturday, Oct. 27
#=IHSA Seeding. Records are in parenthesis.
#16 West Central (5-4) at #1 Stockton (9-0), TBA
#9 Galena (6-3) at #8 East Dubuque (6-3), TBA
#13 Hales Franciscan (6-3) at #4 Freeport Aquin (8-1), TBA
#12 Abingdon (6-3) at #5 Lena-Winslow) (7-2), TBA
#15 Luther North (5-4) at #2 Ottawa Marquette (9-0), TBA
#10 Alden-Hebron (6-3) at #7 Forreston (7-2), TBA
#14 Warren (5-4) at #3 Mooseheart (8-1), Saturday, 4 p.m.
#11 Monmouth United (6-3) at #6 Stark County (7-2)
#16 Brown County (5-4) at #1 LeRoy (9-0), TBA
#9 Flanagan-Cornell-Woodland (7-2) at #8 Ridgeview (7-2), TBA
#13 Mt. Olive (6-3) at #4 Concord Triopia (8-1), TBA
#12 Milford (6-3) at #5 Moweaqua Central A & M (8-1), TBA
#15 Dupo (6-3) at #2 Maroa-Forsyth (8-1), TBA
#10 Winchester West Central (6-3) at #7 Villa Grove (8-1), TBA
#14 Cumberland (6-3) at #3 Carrollton (8-1), TBA
#11 Oblong (6-3) at #6 Sidell Jamaica Salt Fork (8-1), TBA