Unity’s blocking backs making an impact
The biggest gainer in Unity’s first-round Class 3A win against Pana was a 57-yard pass from Justin Deters to Tyler Lindsey.
It moved the Rockets to the Panthers’ 13-yard line. Unity coach Scott Hamilton recognized why the yardage was so great. Tight end Kameron Heath supplied a downfield block that enabled Lindsey to gain an additional 20 yards.
“That’s something we try to promote, whether it’s the tight end or slots or receivers or running backs,” Hamilton said. “It’s important they make blocks downfield.”
The Rockets give a weekly award for superior blocking by someone other than a lineman. Lindsey and Derek Hooker have been two of the leaders in this endeavor. Lindsey and Micah Johnson have combined to snag 39 of the Rockets’ 52 completions.
Johnson was expected to be a go-to receiver. Lindsey was more unheralded entering the season. “He has developed into a really good player,” Hamilton said. “He’s big enough he can handle the blocking and has good enough hands he can catch the ball.”
Deters, Unity’s top rusher, needs 33 yards of total offense to reach 2,000 for the season. “He has done a good job of getting better each and every week,” Hamilton said. “He has to make a bunch of pre-snap decisions, then catch the snap in the gun and mesh the ball with the running back. He’s making good decisions, and we’re fortunate enough to have a good set of skill guys we can mix the ball around to.”
The Rockets will entertain Pleasant Plains at 1 p.m. Saturday, with the winner moving into the Class 3A Elite Eight. Plains is led by 6-foot-4, 255-pound fullback/linebacker Logan Larson, who has 992 rushing yards and 64 tackles.
Salt Fork defense stays strong
The Storm (9-1) will travel to Carrollton (9-1) for a second-round Class 1A game where the hope is the Salt Fork defense will continue its late-season showing. Last week’s 27-6 verdict against Oblong extended the streak of consecutive quarters without allowing a point to 13.
The defense has responded to every challenge and faces another one this week. When tackling leader Steven Meade was sidelined by a season-ending injury, Garron Fathauer stepped in and emerged as one of the steadiest tacklers. Fathauer suffered bruised lungs against Oblong and will miss the remainder of the year.
When Fathauer went out last week and was joined on the sideline by starting quarterback Taylor Kirby, the game was scoreless. “That’s a testament to the kids in the program,” coach Brian Plotner said. “We didn’t have those two, and the rest of the group was able to get it done.”
Either Colton Osborne or Nick Barr likely will move into Fathauer’s linebacker position. Jacob Hughes, a transfer from Bismarck-Henning, took over at quarterback last week and didn’t surprise Plotner with his play. “Jacob is our best passer, and he proved that on Saturday,” Plotner said. “He made some critical throws and is getting more comfortable in his first year in our program.”
By necessity, Plotner may implement some offensive changes for Carrollton. “We will be as different of a team as we’ve been all year,” he said. “We will do some things we haven’t done a whole lot of and see what shakes out. Finding a way to score will be a big key to success.” In one six-game stretch this season, Carrollton allowed one touchdown.
Salt Fork’s all-underclassman secondary features Nick Hedges, who has a team-high three interceptions.
Urbana makes travel plans
Two teams with contrasting histories meet in a Class 5A second-round game at Morris at 4 p.m. Saturday.
The hometown Redskins have qualified for the playoffs 30 times, including 12 in succession. The school has played in state championship games nine times.
Urbana, on the other hand, won its first postseason game five days ago. Urbana coach Nathan Watson respects the Redskins but is keeping the opponent’s tradition in perspective. “The bottom line is that past players don’t win you games,” Watson said. “In 2012, Urbana has a good team and Morris has a good team.”
Watson doesn’t mind not having a home game. “I prefer playing on the road,” he said. “There are less distractions for us.”
The fourth-year Urbana coach has a statistical formula he uses to determine whether Urbana will be the favorite or underdog. He hasn’t shared the formula with his staff, but said, “this is the first time it came out tied. It will come down to who makes less mistakes. We’ll have to play better than them if we want to move on.”
The offense continues to be effective despite a rotation system by series of which athletes join quarterback Cameron Mammen in the backfield. Kenny Patton and James Cobbs had double-figure carries last week. In the regular season finale, Alex Lynch also had double-figure carries.
Watson said Morris will need to get accustomed to Urbana’s style. “Morris hasn’t played a no-huddle team. You can’t simulate that in practice unless you are one,” he said. He expects his team to have a relaxed approach to the game after snapping the postseason losing streak. “I don’t think you realize how much pressure there is (to win) until it’s over,” he said.
Rematch on tap for Panthers
In its rich playoff history, LeRoy’s football program has played games as far northwest as Galena and as far south as DuQuoin.
On Saturday at 2 p.m., the Panthers make the short trek to Flanagan to play a Heart of Illinois Conference opponent they beat in Week 8, 49-12.
“I’m not a fan of playing within your conference,” LeRoy coach B.J. Zeleznik said. “That defeats the purpose of a state series. I love traveling to all corners of the state and seeing different systems and different styles. From a travel standpoint, it’s great to see a conference team, but I’d rather head somewhere else and get someone new.”
Zeleznik knows the Falcons will have a new look for the Class 1A game, and his unbeaten team has made changes as well. “It’s definitely not a game where you come in and do exactly what you did the last time,” Zeleznik said. “We’re putting in a few new wrinkles offensively and defensively, things we need to show to go against tendencies, but we won’t completely go against what has gotten us this far.”
Austin Eddy, who suffered a wrist injury last week during his four-touchdown performance against Brown County, was cleared Tuesday to play.
Flanagan (8-2) has regained the services of Cody Appel, who was injured early in the first game against LeRoy. Eddy and Cory Eastham are the Panthers’ wingbacks, and they offer opponents a contrast. “Cory is more of a power runner, and Austin is more of a slasher and cutter,” Zeleznik said. Along with them, LeRoy has area rushing leader Shane Bruning, who needs 115 yards to reach 2,000 rushing for the season and Nic Stevens, “our quarterback who can run or throw,” Zeleznik said. “We’ve got a lot of weapons back there.” Bruning has scored 30 touchdowns this year.
Broncos’ success starts up front
The Cerro Gordo/DeLand-Weldon/Bement cooperative team has rushed for 3,211 yards and 44 touchdowns.
The backs, such as Steve Isbell and Dee Woods, aren’t doing it by themselves.
“Our line has been a bit unheralded,” Broncos coach Andy Kerley said. “Those guys have done a great deal of the heavy lifting that Dee and Steve get a lot of credit for. The last four weeks, in particular, they have really come on and stepped it up a notch in their play.”
The offensive line is an all-senior unit that includes Kybric Lamb, Bailey Runyen, Chris Kocher, Andy Maltby and Kyle Gideon.
The Broncos meet Camp Point Central in a Class 2A game Saturday. Defensively, Jay Woods has shifted from linebacker to tackle and is in a transition phase. “Jay has been a very forceful defensive tackle at times,” Kerley said. “It is a bit of a new position, but at times he has been dominant. He just needs to find a level of consistency to be able to be a very good defensive tackle at all times.”
A matchup between unbeatens is unusual before the quarterfinals. Among the eight classes, only the Cerro Gordo/Camp Point game will feature unbeatens this week. There are still two other unbeatens in the lower bracket. “It is what it is,” Kerley said. “With five 9-0 teams (after the regular season) in the south end of the bracket, it was more than likely going to happen.” Camp Point beat Argenta-Oreana 40-29 in a first-round playoff game. “Their style of play is similar to ours,” Kerley said. “Camp Point is a physical, grinding, running team who plays tough defense and doesn’t turn the ball over much.”
B-H attack features ‘Dynamic Duo’
Patrick Ganley is not finishing the football season like he started it.
The Bismarck-Henning running back suffered a sprained ankle in the first quarter of the Blue Devils’ opener. He was limited to three carries. The next game, he had eight carries. It wasn’t a major blow to the offense, which still featured fullback Kevin Allen, who was coming off a 912-yard season.
As the season progressed, Ganley returned to full speed, and the Ganley-Allen duo has evolved into a formidable “Dynamic Duo.”
Each has rushed for more than 1,000 yards entering Saturday’s 2 p.m. home game against DuQuoin in Class 2A. “They’ve put up amazing numbers,” B-H coach Mark Dodd said. “Kevin is the workhorse inside, and Patrick is a nice complement.”
Similarities abound in the teams. B-H has won all 10 of its games. DuQuoin is working on an eight-game winning streak. “There are similar offensive philosophies as far as coming right at you,” Dodd said.
His Blue Devils are a senior-laden unit, with underclassmen such as Ganley, Mo Abbed, Dustyn Ingram and Braedon Lappin-Pratt developing into major contributors. “For 18 years of coaching, this is what I’ve tried to work toward,” Dodd said, “to be in position like this, and this team is making it fun for me.”
The Blue Devils have been the talk of the town, and that is reflected on game day. “I think we’ve caught on pretty well in our area,” Dodd said. If the winningest B-H team in school history notches another victory and advances to the quarterfinals for the first time, Dodd won’t be disappointed if that means a road trip. “That makes it an event, and something the players will remember,” he said. “It’s not so good for the fans, but I don’t mind when we go on the road.”