Johnson, Unity catch fire to move on
TOLONO — Micah Johnson’s left ankle felt so good Saturday that the Unity wide receiver even pulled emergency duty in the secondary when a teammate was injured.
Just the same, the Rockets senior was all too happy that his time as a defender didn’t include any confrontations with a certain Pleasant Plains fullback who weighs 250 pounds.
“Thank God,” Johnson said with a hearty laugh.
Unity’s 6-foot-1, 185-pound speedster was no laughing matter to the Cardinals’ defense in this Class 3A second-round playoff game at Hicks Field.
On a day when the Rocket offense turned the ball over three times and failed to score on three of four trips inside the red zone, Johnson twice burned Pleasant Plains for long touchdowns to propel Unity to a 22-7 victory.
“We weren’t able to sustain many drives today between turnovers and penalties and untimely things,” Rockets coach Scott Hamilton said, “and fortunately we were able to get a couple big plays in our passing game with Micah.”
One came on Unity’s first offensive snap, with Johnson gathering in a short pass to the left flank by Justin Deters and then outsprinting the Cardinal defense for a 75-yard TD.
“I was able to get outside the guy (guarding me) and then I just went up the sideline,” Johnson said.
With Unity (10-1) clinging to an 8-0 lead in the third quarter, Johnson struck again on a stutter-and-go route for a 40-yard TD pass from Deters.
Johnson ended up catching five passes for 145 yards and also contributed 38 yards rushing on sweep plays. It was the kind of performance the Division I college prospect — who has offers from three Mid-American Conference schools — had been looking for since sitting out the final two regular season games with an ankle ligament tear.
“I was about 60 percent (for the first round of the playoffs), so this game was much needed,” Johnson said. “I felt about 90 percent this game so I was back to almost full strength.”
The same couldn’t be said of a Unity defense that saw several players leave this game with injuries. Still, that Rockets unit never missed a beat, limiting the Cardinals (9-2) to 181 total yards. Pleasant Plains, which entered with a 37.5-point scoring average, did not score until 12.3 seconds remained.
“It was truly our defense today that won the game for us,” Hamilton said. “We put (that unit) behind the eight ball with turnovers and not executing (on offense), and our defense just hung in there and battled.”
Job 1 for Unity’s defense was to deal with Logan Larson, Pleasant Plains’ jumbo-sized fullback. That, the Rockets did, limiting the 6-foot-3, 250-pounder to 62 yards on 17 carries (3.6-yard average).
“Coach was telling us all week that was their biggest threat to our defense, and I feel like we stopped him pretty well,” said Unity defensive lineman Jared Abrahamson, who had 11 tackles and two sacks.
Anthony Vasquez, who also worked in the trenches for the Rockets, indicated that Larson — despite his limited impact on offense — was a load.
“He’s pretty hard-hitting,” said the Unity junior, who racked up a game-high 12 tackles, including eight solos. “I saw a couple stars here and there.”
Now, Unity will have a week to clear its head and refocus for the next playoff hurdle: a quarterfinal date at Williamsville (11-0) at 2 p.m. Saturday.
“We have loads of stuff to improve on,” Abrahamson said, “just as we do every single week.”