Like a bottle of wine, Harrisburg has aged well this season, but if there is a year to uncork, 2005 is the one to pull off the shelf.
Much like this year, 2005 was also the last time Harrisburg went 8-1 in the regular season, but the great thing about '05 was that was the last time the Bulldogs won a playoff game.
Harrisburg will try to match those odds when they square off against Herrin on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Taylor Field.
A victory Saturday would be the first postseason win for Harrisburg head coach Jason Roper who has clinched five straight playoff berths and is his sixth in seven years.
Roper (39-29) and Harrisburg are in the playoffs for the 27th time in school history and the seventh time in eight years.
However a rematch against the Tigers leaves Roper knowing that anything can happen when the playoffs start.
The Bulldogs went through the River-to-River Ohio Division without a loss. That includes Harrisburg's 48-14 win at Herrin Week 6. On the flip side, the Tigers haven't lost either, including three straight weeks of win, including last week's win over Anna-Jonesboro. Herrin was the final team in the IHSA football playoffs with 38 playoff points. The Tigers tied with Greenfield-Northwestern and won on a tiebreaker.
"Herrin is much improved and hasn't turned the ball over much since we played them… If they've turned the ball over any," Roper said. "Looking back and watching our game film again, we kind of captured the momentum early and it was a downward spiral from there on our for Herrin."
Harrisburg took advantage of massive first half turnovers by Herrin, turning three interceptions into touchdowns, while Capel Henshaw was a beast on the Tigers' homecoming night, finishing with 51 receiving yards, 87 rushing yards and three touchdowns, one of which came courtesy of a 68-yard punt return as Harrisburg racked up 370-plus yards on offense, while Herrin had just 237, 219 of which came on the ground.
Despite giving up 200-plus in the air, the Harrisburg defense was able to ground the Tiger's running attack by holding them to 18 yards on 12 carries.
On the flip side, Harrisburg's offensive line paved the way for a huge Bulldog ground game that amassed 308 yards on 58 carries as Dylan Hathaway led the way with 122 on 21 carries and scored two times.
Harrisburg scored first when Henshaw found pay dirt from 1-yard out with 6:03 to play. The score was set up on a 37-yard pass play from quarterback Ryne Roper to Henshaw.
Following a Copper Thompson interception on Herrin's first play from scrimmage after Henshaw's touchdown, Tyler Bebout scored from 1-yard out, giving Harrisburg a quick 13-0 lead.
Page 2 of 3 - "Those two quick scores were huge," Roper said. "However, I expect this time around for things to be different. If we don't capture the momentum over there, maybe the score isn't what it was. I'm looking for this game to be a little tougher."
Coming into the game, Harrisburg is scoring 29.2 points per game and is giving up just 16.8. The offense has amassed 3,195 yards with 2,584 coming on the ground and 611 through the air.
Dylan Hathaway has 205 carries for 1,211 yards and 15 rushing touchdowns, while Henshaw has 507 yards on 92 carries and five rushing TD's. Justin Younger has 68 carries for 440 yards and two rushing TD's, while Tyler Bebout has 25 yards on 13 carries and four touchdowns.
Under center, Ryne Roper is 37-for-78 with 611 yards and five passing touchdowns, while Henshaw has 13 receptions for 243 yards and two receiving TD's.
Defensively, Harrisburg has allowed 151 points, including 2,237 yards. The Bulldogs are +8 in the turnover category with 10 fumbles recovering, while losing nine on offense and two interceptions thrown. The Bulldogs have nine picks as a team, where Logan Hartley, Cooper Thompson and Brandon Pate all have two. Dakota Upchurch, Henshaw, Younger all have one.
Roper says that Bulldogs' defense is as good as its offense, admitting that the longer the offense is on the field, the more breaks his guys get on the defensive side of the ball.
"We'd like to keep our defense off the field, let them rest and keep other teams' defense on the field, where a lot of those kids might go both ways and try to run them down. Our tackling has really improved. A lot of that has to do with our physicalness and hopefully we'll continue that as we make a push in the playoffs."
Roper knows that upswing in the Bulldogs' defense is going to be beneficial, lining up against a Tiger ballclub that throws many different offensive formations at you.
"Offensively, I think (Herrin) has found a way run some of their double-tight, four-wide sets and move the ball without using a lot of spread stuff where they were turning the ball over a lot and I think that has been a big difference maker for them.
"The tricky thing in today's time of football — you gotta be able to adjust to so many different formations that people give you because like Herrin — we're going to get a spread offense, we're going to get a two tight end set with a full house backfield. We're going to get all kind of offensive schemes out of one team. I think this year, our kids and our personnel allows us to do that. The second thing, as time has gone on, our kids have gotten comfortable on defense and with the schemes we are trying to use."
Page 3 of 3 - Michael Dann can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @spydieshooter.