The Daily Register - Harrisburg, IL
  • Prep Football: State Of The Union

  • Local coaches debrief about first half of football season
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    • Tyler Bebout
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      Tyler Bebout
  • One team is trying to prevent history from repeating itself, while the other is just trying to keep the train on the tracks.
    With the football season at the midway point, both Harrisburg and Eldorado head coaches are keeping a close eye on their program in the hopes making yet another trip to the IHSA playoffs.
    Both the Bulldogs and Eagles currently sit at 4-1 on the season and realistically need just one more win to become playoff eligible.
    It was this time a year ago that Harrisburg started its downward spiral to what was a 5-5 season and a first-round loss to Mt. Carmel in the Class 3A playoffs.
    Eldorado, a 3A member last year because of their co-op with Galatia is now back to 2A, but has what Brandon Hampton calls the toughest last half of a schedule he remembers in his short time as head coach of the Eagles.
    "We need to make sure this last month of the season we finish strong and we have some tough games coming up. I don't know in my short time here having four in row that are that big, and that quality of opponent. That's the challenge we have right now."
    Eldorado will host Black Diamond Conference rival Johnston City (3-2) Friday night at Boz Adams Field, followed by a trip to Chester, where the Yellow Jackets are currently undefeated at 5-0, giving up just 35 points a game.
    The Eagles will close out the last two games of the season at home against this year's feel-good story of the year against Veinna-Goreville (4-1) and Sesser-Valier (2-3).
    "You sit back and you look, we're 4-1 and you could say we should be 5-0 and you think we should have this back or get that back," Hampton said. "The reality is this, we've dealt with some major injuries. We're under our third quarterback after five games. We're very fortunate to be where we are at right now and I'm very proud of our kids."
    Harrisburg has opened up Southern Illinois River-to-River Ohio Division play up 2-0 with wins over Murphysboro and Massac County.
    The Bulldogs travel to Herrin on Friday night in hopes of extracting some revenge after last year's 21-19 loss.
    Harrisburg would just win one game out of its last four, beating West Frankfort, before suffering back-to-back losses to Benton and Carbondale to close out the season.
    Jason Roper talked about the importance of staying focused with the understanding how the Bulldogs finish the regular season goes a far way in determining the teams playoff fate.
    "There is a lot to be gained by finishing the season strong. Our kids are going to have to realize that and work towards that."
    Page 2 of 3 - Putting the O in Offense
    In working towards that, Roper, who spent a good portion of the summer installing a spread offense has just 435 passing yards and 1,142 rushing yards for his run-and-gun show.
    Still, Roper believes in order to keep pace with other teams, establish a more efficient passing game will be crucial come playoff time.
    "I feel like we have the ability to throw the ball with the quarterback (Ryne Roper) we have and the receivers we have.
    Roper has is 25-for-56 with three touchdown passes and two interceptions this year, while Capel Henshaw has 7 catches for 142 yards and one TD.
    "We haven't thrown the ball as much as I would like too," Roper said. "We need to take advantage of our athletes in the passing game, knowing that later on in the playoffs, maybe later in the season we're going to have to throw the ball better and maybe a little better play selection on my part."
    Hampton eluded to the fact that throwing the ball and having success doing so made his team more balanced in the Eagles' win over Hamilton County.
    The Eagles have 1400-plus of rushing offense this year. They didn't complete a pass through the first four games, until Nathan Burnett went 3-for-3 with 92 yards this past week against Hamilton County.
    Dylan Roberts leads the Eagle rushing attack with 585 yards.
    "We took a big step at offense in being able to throw the football," he said. "As people continue to stack the box against us, we have to be able to throw the ball and loosen things up a little bit."
    After losing senior starter Nick Schimp to an ankle injury in the first quarter Week 3 at Elverado-Trico, Hampton and Company went with senior backup Tanner Smith for a game and a half, one of which was the 30-28 loss to Fairfield, before Hampton went with junior backup Nick Burnett in the win against the Foxes.
    Eldorado has also lost Brennan Unthank, Devin McGuire and Scotty Wiseman for the season with injuries. Hampton does expect Schimp to return to the lineup next week at Chester.
    "You look at this point in the season and we've been at it for a long time," Hampton said. "We've been playing for a month. We've been doing stuff in the summer and kids' bodies are starting to break down. That's a focus for us, to make sure our team is fresh.
    "For us, it has to be about getting quality work in practice, instead of quantity."
    Defensive Stands
    Defense has been a constant contributor to both teams' success this season.
    Harrisburg is +2 in turnovers as the Bulldogs have five interceptions on defense, while Eldorado has forced 18 turnovers.
    Page 3 of 3 - Ironically, each team is second best in conference play when it comes to points allowed. Eldorado has surrendered 80 points to the opposition, while Harrisburg has give up 105.
    However, both coaches agree that now is not the time to rest on one laurels.
    "You have to make sure that you're the team at this point in the season that is improving," Hampton said. "Right now, teams are either getting better or getting worse this point in the season."
    Roper believes that while he wants to establish a little more of a spread offense himself, defending the same offense is just as important.
    "Defensively, we have to be able to defend the spread offense a little better. We haven't gotten much out of our interior seven as far as a pass rush is concerned. That's something we have to do a better job of, especially late in the season.
    We need to do a better job of tackling against teams that run the spread offense against us. We're pretty big and physical on the defensive side, but we have had troubles with the smaller, quicker teams."
    Michael Dann can be reached at hbgsports@dailyregister.com. Follow him on Twitter @spydieshooter.
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