As Harrisburg gears up for its 11th quarterfinal appearance in the IHSA football playoffs, the Bulldogs are hoping all their gears are good to go.
After clicking on all cylinders for the past two weeks in the playoffs, Harrisburg gets another home game Saturday when they take on Alton-Marquette at 2 p.m. at Taylor Field.
A win against the Explorers would be Harrisburg's sixth semifinal appearance, either taking on Rochester or Peoria Notre Dame next week with a trip on the line for Harrisburg to make it's fourth state appearance in the championship game, with the last one coming in 2000, a season in which Harrisburg was in Class 3A.
Alton-Marquette comes in at 10-1 and winners of nine in a row. The lone loss came in week two at home to Quincy Notre Dame.
Based out of Madison County, the Explorers come in averaging over 47 points a game on offense, something that head coach Jason Roper knows will be key to containing.
"Defense wins championships and so far our defense has been really good," he said. "They don't throw the ball much, but they run the ball a lot out of the spread."
Roper added that a big part of Alton-Marquette's offense is designed around the option. A particular type of offense they haven't seen much of this year, but with three talented running backs, Roper is well aware of how important tackling and wrapping up will be.
"They get in some formations that are a jet or wildcat look, where it allows them to use the speed they have. It will be a challenge for our defense. We have to tackle well, that has to be one of the biggest keys. We have to take good angles."
When it comes to defense, no one has been better in southern Illinois than Harrisburg.
The Bulldogs are giving up an average of 14.9 points per game and haven't allowed more than 48 in a week three loss to Marion. Since then, Harrisburg has surrendered no more than 25, in a 28-25 Week 4 win at Murphysboro.
The Bulldogs are plus-13 in turnovers this year, recovering 13 fumbles, while losing nine and picking off 11 interceptions, while throwing just two.
Brandon Pate leads the defense with three interceptions, while Logan Hartley and Cooper Thompson both have two and Dakota Upchurch, Capel Henshaw, Just Younger and Daniel Lewis each have one.
"Every offense we see poses some kind of different problem," Roper said of the 11 teams Harrisburg has played this far. "You have to have flexibility in your defense to cover multiple formations and multiple fronts.
"(Alton-Marquette) can do a lot of different things and fortunately our kids being able to adjust on the fly to a lot of those things without adjusting personnel. That's been one of the keys to our defense."
Page 2 of 2 - As good as the Bulldogs' defense has been, the offense has been as efficient.
The Bulldogs, coming into Saturday, are averaging 29.2 points per game have amassed 3,728 total yards of offense, with 3,047 of that on the ground.
Dylan Hathaway comes in as Harrisburg's top rusher with 26 carries for 1,498 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Roper said that despite some nicks and bruises, the Bulldogs come into Saturday with no one missing action due to injury.
Michael Dann can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @spydieshooter.