By MICHAEL DANN
Gatehouse News Service
HARRISBURG - The one thing Herrin couldn't afford to happen Saturday, happend early and it happened often.
No. 1 seeded Harrisburg took advantage of a pair of first half turnovers, turning them into touchdown scores as the Bulldogs eased by Herrin 44-6 in the first round of the IHSA Class 4A football playoffs at Taylor Field.
And Tigers head coach Jason Karnes knows that a good team like Harrisburg is going to cash in and that's what the Bulldogs (9-1) did.
We kind of reverted back to what we were the first six games of the season," Karnes said. "We stop them on fourth-and-two, give the ball to a senior and he puts the ball on the turf. A team like Harrisburg, who is the No. 1 seed is going to cash in and when we turn the ball over, it just doesn't set up well for this team that we have."
After the Bulldogs were stopped on fourth down on their opening drive, Herrin's first possession resulted in a fumble, which led to a 22-yard touchdown run by Dylan Hathaway.
Later in the second quarter, Tiger quarterback Austin Starkweather's pass was intercepted by Daniel Lewis, who returned the pigskin back 30 yards for the score.
"When you turn the ball over twice in the first half against a team like Harrisburg bad things are going to happen. We were outmanned and we got beat by a better team. That's just the way it is," Karnes said.
Harrisburg was the better team Saturday as they rushed for 270 yards, finishing with 283 yards of total offense and held the Tigers (5-5) to just seven first downs and 29 rushing yards on 21 carries.
As it has been all season, Harrisburg's ability to control the clock, control the momentum and run the ball at will, has propelled them to where they are today.
Saturday's time of possession, in obvious favor of the Bulldogs, was just another chapter in the season long story.
"I think a lot of that credit has to be given to our offensive line, but our running backs were running hard and I think our defense played a key part in that as well," said Harrisburg head coach Jason Roper.
Hathaway finished with 130 yards on 23 carries and three touchdowns, while Capel Henshaw rushed for 78 yards on 11 carries. Adding to the mix was Justin Younger who finished with eight carries for 58 yards and a touchdown.
Herrin's Nathan Vaughn had three carries for 14 yards to lead the Tigers' rushing attack.
Starkweather finished 7-for-16 for 94 yards and a fourth quarter touchdown, finding Will Huggins in the endzone with less than 40 seconds to play.
Page 2 of 3 - "We had to come over here and play a flawless game and in the first half we dug ourselves a hole," Karnes said. "I give all the credit to Harrisburg, they are big up front and we took away some things, but they were just the better team (Saturday)."
After Hathaway's first TD of the game got Harrisburg on the board, the senior found paydirt again, this time bulldozing his way from eight yards out. Following Lewis' interception, Roper connected with Henshaw on a seven-yard pass to give the Bulldogs a 28-0 halftime lead.
Harrisburg came out in the third quarter, when Hathaway ripped off a 20-yard run, followed by a Younger eight-yard run that initiated the running clock for the game.
Following Saturday's game, Roper learned that next week's opponent will be Columbia, who knocked off Mt. Carmel 57-22.
"Columbia has some speed and they run the spread offense. So we'll have a challenge next week, but I think it's something our defense is looking forward too."
More importantly, Roper gets a giant monkey off his back as the seventh year head coach got his first playoff victory and the school's first since 2005.
"I'm just proud of our kids, we have a really good group with a great bunch of seniors. To get a playoff home game and get a win here (Saturday) is awesome.
"It's good to get (that playoff win) and I told our kids it takes a good group. I've had some good groups in the past and I don't want to say that any other group is different. We've had some great ones, but this year, we were able to make the right plays and got some things to go in our favor."
Michael Dann can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @spydieshooter.
Herrin 00 00 00 06 - 06
Harrisburg 06 22 16 00 - 44
HBG - Hathaway 22 run (pass failed), 6:06
HBG - Hathaway 8 run (two-point conversion), 11:07
HBG - Lewis 30 Interception return (Roper kick), 10:25
HBG - Henshaw 7 pass from Roper (Roper kick), 57.6
HBG - Hathaway 20 run (Roper kick), 9:02
HBG - Younger 8 run (Roper kick), 3:01
HBG - Herrin Intentional grounding, 7:00
HER - Huggins 7 pass from Starkweather (pass failed), 40.1
1st Downs 14 7
Total Net Yards 283 123
Rushes-Yards 52-270 21-29
Passing 13 94
Comp-Att-Int 2-6-0 7-16-1
Penalities-Yards 3-10 3-6.5
Page 3 of 3 - Fumbles-Lost 0 2
RUSHING: HBG - Henshaw 11-78, Hathway 23-130, Younger 8-58, Perkins 2-4, Buchanan 2-(-2), Willsey 2-5, Roper 3-(-3). HER - Merrell 8-(-5), Butler 5-7, Starkweather 3-2, Vaughn 3-14, McGowan 2-11.
PASSING: HBG - Roper 2-6-0-13. HER - Starkweather - 7-16-1-94
RECEIVING: HBG - Henshaw 1-7, Reeder 1-6. HER - Merrell 2-40, Huggins 1-7, Butler 7-32, McGowan 2-15.