The games keep getting bigger for the Harrisburg High School football team, but the performance and results continue to stay the same.
The Bulldogs, once again, relied on a dominating defensive performance and tore up Taylor Field on the ground with a brutalizing rushing attack as they knocked off Columbia 14-7 Saturday during the IHSA Class 4A football playoffs.
The win puts Harrisburg into the quarterfinals for the first time since 2000, the same season the Bulldogs played for the state title.
Next up for Harrisburg will be another home game - Saturday - against Alton-Marquette, who knocked off Olney East Richland 56-28.
As excited as Harrisburg head coach Jason Roper is about moving on to the third round of the playoffs, he showed his smile in talking about his Bulldogs’ victory against Columbia.
“I’m so proud of these guys right now,” Roper said. “Those seniors, what can you say, they have been with us and with this program for a long time. I thought they played great. We faced some adversity and Columbia is a great team and has a lot of speed. They’re well coached, but I’m just proud of our guys for being able to win another playoff game and another game here at home.”
Harrisburg built a quick 14-0 lead in the first half, scoring first on a Dylan Hathaway three-yard plunge on fourth-and-one after Brandon Pate picked off Eagles’ quarterback Logan Santanello and returned it to the 10-yard line.
In the second quarter, Hathaway again found the end zone, this time from one-yard out with 5:05 to play.
In the second half, the winds of change blew in favor of Columbia as they were able to block Ryne Roper’s punt attempt on Harrisburg’s second possession of the half and fall on the football around the 15-yard line.
From there, Santanello hooked up with Eric Read on a 15-yard pass en route to the end zone with 2:26 to play, cutting the Eagle deficit in half.
On more than one occasion however, the Harrisburg defense rose to the challenge.
Still clinging to a one-score lead and with Columbia threatening midway through the fourth quarter, Capel Henshaw came up with a much needed fumble.
The drive stalled however, when Harrisburg went three-and-out, giving the ball back to Columbia.
The Eagles couldn’t do anything with their drive and punted away at the 6 minute mark, where Harrisburg went to work.
Starting at the Columbia five-yard line and needing four first downs, Harrisburg got just what they needed, including a big push from the Bulldog offensive line for Hathaway on a fourth-and-four situation with just over a minute to play to ultimately sealed the deal for the ‘Dogs.
Page 2 of 3 - “We talked a lot about it all week and when you play big games like this, things are going to happen where adversity turns,” Roper said. “They had the momentum there for a while after the blocked the punt, but our kids were able to come right back and play fantastic. There at the end, getting the first downs when we needed too and icing the game and running some clock was tremendous.”
Statistically, Harrisburg ran 58 plays for 250 yards, while the Eagles rushed 24 times for 55 yards and got about 107 in the air.
Of the 16 first downs Harrisburg got Saturday, 13 of them came via the rush. Hathaway finished with 157 yards on 38 carries, while Justin Younger gave Harrisburg a lot of life through the air, catching two of Roper’s passes for 57 yards.
There was a time in the second half when Roper admitted that he abandoned his running back Hathaway, but in the closing minutes made it very clear he wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice.
“I quit running him,“ Roper said. “I tried to do some different things and it back fired on us. I told Dylan, ‘hey, if I have to run you every time, I’m going to.’ I think he took that as a challenge, stepped up and did a nice job of finishing.”
Roper, who hadn’t won a playoff game in his seven years as head coach has now won two straight. He knows that from this point on, every game is a one-game-at-a-time situation.
“We’re very blessed to still be playing and I think our kids understand that. We have some seniors who show some great leadership and have been with this program for a long time. It’s great for our community to have home playoff games like this and I think our community has really rallied around our kids. They’re a great bunch of kids and I’m really proud of them.”
Harrisburg 07 07 00 00 - 14
Columbia 00 00 07 00 - 07
HBG - Hathaway 3 run (Roper kick), 1:25
HBG - Hathaway 1 run (Roper kick), 5:05
COL - Reed 15 pass from Santanello (Spivey kick), 2:26
First Downs 16 10
Total Yards 250 162
Rushes-Yards 54-193 24-55
Comp-Att-Int 2-4-0 7-23-1
Passing 57 107
Fumbles-lost 0 1
Penalities-Yards 2-5 2-10
Page 3 of 3 - RUSHING: HBG - Hathaway 38-157, Younger 9-23, Henshaw 10-16, Bebout 2-5, Roper 5-(-8). COL - Farris 12-48, Santanello 9-8, Read 2-4, Dobb 1-(-5).
PASSING: HBG - Roper 2-4-0-57. COL - Santanello 7-23-1-107
RECEIVING: HBG - Younger 2-57. COL - Dobb 3-59, Depagsi 1-3, Read 2-40, Malencoft 1-5.