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Alternating currents

NUIC Upstate teams flip between road, home games

In the always balanced NUIC Upstate, this year’s schedules will match the parity usually displayed on the field. For nearly every team in the division, 2015 will be a back-and-forth affair between hitting the road and staying home.

The AFC Raiders and Polo Marcos both have back-to-back road games once during the season, while the Milledgeville Missiles alternate between road games and home games all season long until consecutive home games in Weeks 8 & 9.

The Raiders (3-6 in 2014) open with two away from home, including a long trek to Warren in Week 2. But their reward is two straight home games in Weeks 3 & 4. AFC hosts nearby rivals Milledgeville (Week 3) and Polo (Week 8) at Mel Barron Field.

“I like splitting the schedule up that way,” AFC coach Brad Winterland said, “because it makes for an easier adjustment for the kids. I think if we can start off solid the first 2 weeks, all of a sudden it builds more excitement and anticipation for what we can do when we come home.”

AFC does have to contend with other long road trips to Stockton and River Ridge, but a little more driving time hasn’t bothered the Raiders in recent seasons.

“I would personally prefer shorter road trips,” Winterland said, “but in years past, it seems like we’ve played some of our better football on the farther trips. I don’t know what it is, if the long bus ride helps get guys more focused or what, but it’s worked well for us lately.”

Polo (8-3) actually gets the shorter trips next fall, with three of its five road games at nearby Lanark, Milledgeville, and Franklin Grove. The other two are to Hanover and Stockton, but playing closer to home in 60 percent of its away games is aesthetically pleasing to coach Andrew Hofer.

“That is a benefit for us; there’s a huge different between driving to East Dubuque and Galena, compared to Milledgeville and AFC,” Hofer said. “It’s obviously nicer to play road games closer to home, because more of our own fans can be there, and it makes for quite the atmosphere.”

The Marcos play three of their final five games at home, including a Week 7 showdown with rival Aquin, and they close out the regular season in front of their home crowd against Orangeville.

“It’s always nice for the players, the parents, the program, and the community to have Senior Night on that last week,” Hofer said, “but I’ always tell the seniors that we should hope Week 9 isn’t our last home game, but that we get it further down the playoff road.”

That’s a road Milledgeville (3-6) hopes to travel down once again. It’s been a 6-year postseason drought since the Missiles went to the 1A state semifinals in 2008, but the goal seems to be getting closer.

The Missiles have won three games in each of the past two seasons, after winning three games combined from 2009-12.

“I think the kids are eager to take that next step,” seventh-year coach Jason Wroble said. “The incoming junior class has had a lot of success at the lower levels in every sport, and a lot of them have played varsity football already. They’ve turned out well in the weight room this offseason, and their confidence seems to be up for what’s ahead.”

Milledgeville starts on the road in Week 1 at Durand, then stays home against Aquin in Week 2. After that, it’s away then home the next 6 weeks until consecutive home games in Week 8 (Dakota) and Week 9 (Warren).

Three of the Missiles’ final four games are at Floyd Daub Field, including a Week 6 rivalry game with Polo. All four of those games are against teams that made the playoffs last season.

“I like breaking those road trips up throughout the season, and it’s huge for us to get those home games at the end of the year,” Wroble said. “The last half of the season is really tough, and to be at our place down the stretch will have the kids geared up to get over that hump and into the playoffs again.”

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