Young Steamers led by experienced seniors, senior QB

Rachael Keating/Clinton HeraldFulton quarterback Max Lemke (17) looks for an open receiver while avoiding Riverdale linebacker Karson Smeltzly (81) in the second quarter of Fulton's 26-6 victory over Riverdale at home on Oct. 5.

Did you know there are 17 sophomores on the varsity roster for the Fulton Steamers?

Pair that we seven total seniors and that's a young squad.

That didn't seem to hinder the Steamers, who are preparing to play in the Illinois Class 1A playoffs on Saturday, round one at Milledgeville. They finished with a 5-4 record, including a 40-13 win over Erie-Prophetstown to end the season.

Those few but mighty senior leaders have proved crucial.

"They bring a lot of experience, even if they don't get a lot of fame for what they do," senior quarterback Max Lemke said. "They're down to earth and remind everyone of what we need to do."

He's one of them. The QB is getting his first full-time varsity gig as of this year in the pocket and has thrown 55 completed passes for 685 yards, averaging 12.5 yards per completion. He's thrown for five touchdowns so far.

"I definitely thought I would be getting more yards now, and I have been," Lemke said. "Weeks 1 though whatever, I wasn't doing a whole lot on the offensive side with getting the ball to whoever I needed to. I think I have fulfilled my role."

That's not it. Lemke is also third on the team in rushing yards with 278, including over 100 in their victory over EP last week.

"I definitely did not think that would happen," Lemke said. I didn't think I would break 100 but it was such a great feeling to do that. We've always had running quarterbacks, but it's not very often one rushes for over 100."

Add in two receptions for 27 yards, one as a TD, and he really brings a new aspect to the Steamer offense. Plus, he's not only been in plenty of varsity experience before but he's been to the playoffs.

That helps when you have as many newbies as they do.

"It's reminding them it's just another game," Lemke said. "It's do or die right now, but we have to do what we always have and know that we're more physical than everyone else."

Now the senior is looking towards No. 9 ranked Milledgeville who hasn't lost a contest yet.

"We know they've beat everyone they've played, but we also have to think about who they've played," Lemke said. "Their opponents records haven't been nearly as high as ours."

Three of Fulton's four losses came to ranked teams this year, so that No. 9 doesn't intimidate them. Plus, they have nothing to lose coming in as underdogs. With a stellar defense and a speedy offense, Lemke thinks they can do some damage on the road on Saturday.

"We just have to go on thinking we can fight them, it doesn't matter what their record is," Lemke said. "We know who they've played and we know who we've played, we know we can hang with them, we've hung with a lot of tough teams. Tougher than we're going to play."