Clinch a certain playoff spot, endure the distracting possibilities of Homecoming week, hold onto the football and come out of the game healthy – the Harrisburg Bulldogs can consider themselves good on all four counts after a 39-6 thrashing of West Frankfort Thursday night.
"It's not easy to block in these conditions and you have to take care of the ball, and I think our offense did both of those things well tonight," said HHS coach Jason Roper, whose team improved to 6-1 overall and 4-0 in the SIRR-Ohio, all the while playing in a steady and at times driving rain.
Harrisburg's ground game was dominant, led early and often by Dylan Hathaway. The powerhouse senior back started off with a bang, breaking through a left-side hole on the game's first play from scrimmage for an electrifying 75-yard run.
West Frankfort took that punch and looked ready to hang for a while, putting together an impressive drive with several runs straight up the gut. A Bulldog offside penalty set the Redbirds up with a third and four from the Bulldogs' 11-yard line, but Frankfort quarterback Hayden Restivo and his backfield got crossed up on a pitch play, losing six yards – and Restivo misfired on a fourth-and-10 pass attempt, giving
the ball back to the hosts.
That would turn out to be Frankfort's best sustained drive of the game, with Harrisburg quickly adapting to what the Redbirds were throwing at them.
"I think with the option they run, it's something we don't see a lot and it's just something we have to get used to at game speed," said Roper.
"It sometimes takes a series or two to get used to, but after that, the kids did a really nice job with it."
The Bulldog offense couldn't score again in the first but found the going a bit easier in the second. Justin Younger put forth a strong second effort on a fourth and three to keep the drive going, and a pass-interference call when Roper tried to connect with Capel Henshaw gave the Dogs the ball on the 16-yard line. On the following play, Hathaway cut back to the middle of the field on a run and bulldozed through the entire Frankfort defense for another score.
Less than four minutes later, after turning the Redbirds over on
downs, Harrisburg was knocking at the door again, with Younger piecing together a 23-yard run to precede his own 22-yard touchdown, giving his club a 21-0 lead at the break.
Harrisburg's lead ballooned to 27-0 on their first possession of the second half, thanks to another big play by Hathaway. On a third-and-two, he ripped off another long touchdown run – this one 67 yards – to hit paydirt again.
Page 2 of 2 - Frankfort's lone big highlight of the night came after the ensuing kickoff, when Restivo faked a QB keeper and handed off to Garrett Gibbs, who found a huge hole up the middle for a 76 yard scoring run.
The hosts didn't let up, though, adding another score with 3:04 left in the third, when a 14-yard run by Younger on fourth and seven extended the drive, giving Hathaway a chance to add a fourth score, on a four-yard run with 3:04 left in the third.
Harrisburg's backups then keyed a final scoring drive, capped by a 33-yard scoring dash by Blake Buchanan.
The Bulldogs' ground game was spectacular throughout, garnering 508 yards on 52 carries. Buffered by his big runs – but also several mid-range tough plunges – Hathaway accounted for over half of that, with 260 yards on just 17 carries. Younger added 108 on 11 touches, and Henshaw pitched in 46 yards on 13 carries.
Gibbs led Frankfort (2-5, 1-3) with 115 yards on 14 carries, while Restivo racked up 63 yards on 15 rushes.
Harrisburg improves to 6-1 overall and 4-0 in the conference, and will host Benton and Carbondale in the final two weeks – two games with huge implications.
"The Benton game should be for the conference championship, and the Carbondale game will be important to how we finish our regular season, regardless of what happens next week," said Roper. "I'm glad we were able to fight through this tonight, and get out of it healthy, too…It'll be a great experience for our kids to play in those two games."
WF 0 0 6 0 – 6
HBG 7 14 12 6 – 39
HBG – Hathaway 75-yard run, Roper kick, 7-0, 11:46
HBG – Hathaway 16-yard run, Roper kick, 14-0, 7:46
HBG – Younger 22-yard run, Roper kick, 21-0, 4:01
HBG – Hathaway 67-yard run, conversion failed, 27-0, 7:14
WF – Gibbs 74-yard run, conversion failed, 27-6, 6:55
HBG – Hathaway 4-yard run, conversion failed, 33-6, 3:04
HBG – Perkins 33-yard run, conversion failed, 39-6, 5:34
First downs 7 14
Total Yards 192 508
Rushing 192 508
Passing 0 0
Comp-Att-Int 0-3-0 0-3-0
Penalties/Yards 5/35 3/30
RUSHING: WF: Gibbs 14-115, 1 TD; Williams 6-10; Restivo 15-63; Dodd 2 (-3); Lenzini 1-1, Riddle 2-6. HBG: Hathaway 17-260, 4 TD; Henshaw 13-46; Younger 11-108, 1 TD; Roper 2-21; Willsey 4-6; Perkins 2-41, 1 TD; Buchanan 3-26.
PASSING: WF: Restivo 0-3, 0 INT; HBG: Roper 0-3, 0 INT.