Monticello’s playoff hopes may hinge on a Week 9 win against St. Joseph-Ogden.

In search of their sixth win of the season, the Sages defense buckled under the physical running game of Prairie Central in a 59-37 loss Friday in Fairbury.

So the Sages will look to a senior night matchup against the Spartans to secure a playoff bid a year after their dominant run to a state championship victory.

“I hope it’s important enough for them to kind of regroup and come out and be excited to try to get that sixth win against a conference rival,” Monticello coach Cully Welter said following the 22-point road loss. “I think it will. I think we gave a decent effort in the second half. We didn’t quit and that’s important.”

Monticello did play the Hawks close to even (39-37) for the majority of the game, but the Sages dug themselves a 20-0 hole in the first quarter they couldn’t ever climb out of.

A slow start by the offense and a Pick-6 was not the winning recipe against a playoff team in Fairbury.

Monticello quarterback Nic Tackels’ errant throw allowed the Hawks to open the scoring. The Sages then failed to earn a first down on their next two possessions while Prairie Central found the end zone on a pair of 20-yard runs to take a quick 20-0 lead into the second quarter.

Tackels found Matt Kerr in the end zone from 6 yards out on the first play of the second period to get Monticello on the board.

“I think he’s getting better and better,” Welter said of his starting quarterback, who also connected with Hayden Graham for a 60-yard touchdown on a beautiful throw early in the third quarter. “I still think he plays a little fast sometimes and he just needs to take that extra half-second to set his feet and throw. He threw a couple balls short (Friday). Overall, I was pretty pleased. He’s gotten more poised. Other than a couple examples, for the most part he made good reads in the option run game. A lot of positives on the offensive side.”

But once the offense finally got going - (Tackels finished with five passing touchdowns and more than 300 yards in the air) - the defense couldn’t get off the field without allowing a Hawks score. Monticello forced a Prairie Central punt just once out of nine drives.

“(The early deficit) hurts, but the other thing that hurt was, against a team like that, when you make a stop on first down or you get a tackle for loss, it seemed like we could never follow that up,” Welter said. “They seemed to come back, even on second- and third-and-long. They’d come back with a big play. I give them a lot of credit. They ran hard and their offense is tough to stop.”

Three Hawks players rushed for more than 100 yards in the game and Prairie Central totaled more than 400 yards on the ground while dominating time of possession (31 minutes to 17). Quarterback Kaden King and running backs Connor Casner and Dailen Loveless were all difficult to bring down with their respective size and strength.

“We didn’t tackle well and we didn’t fulfill our assignments very well either,” Welter said.

Monticello has yet to defeat a playoff-eligible team in 2019. The Sages’ three opportunities thus far have all been losses (Illinois Valley Central, Unity, Prairie Central) and two have been by more than 20 points.

Monticello will get another chance this Friday against the 5-3 Spartans.

“We’ve got to get better,” Welter said.