When asked point blank about his best game played to date, Jason Roper pondered — but only for a little while.
The seventh-year head coach at Harrisburg High School is now one game away from a state championship. Something the Bulldogs haven't had since 2000.
But the road through the playoffs has been a long and tiresome one, facing team-after-team that posses skill with speed.
The stakes get even higher Saturday when Harrisburg (11-1) travels to Springfield to take on a Rochester club that is two-time defending state champions in 4A.
For Roper, however, his best game to date — in his opinion was his last game.
Over the weekend, Harrisburg threw everything at Alton Marquette, in posting a 41-7 quarterfinal victory at Taylor Field.
Roper admits that there are always plays in a game that he looks back on wishes he had back, called a play differently or did something different.
Following the win, there weren't many of those lingering thoughts in his mind.
"Do I think we have played our best football game yet? No. But I do think our best game so far was against Alton Marquette."
There weren't many hiccups against the Explorers Saturday as the defense held Alton Marquette to just one touchdown, which came very late in the fourth quarter. The Explorers came in scoring less than 42 points just twice the whole season.
When looking at a Rochester club that is considered the cream of the crop if 4A given past success, Roper knows it's going to take a complete four quarters to make history in Harrisburg.
"We can't turn the ball over," he said. "Field position is going to be a key factor."
Admittley, the biggest surprise for Roper wasn't the win over Alton Marquette of the success his club has had in the postseason, but rather the play of his defense.
Harrisburg hasn't given up more than seven points in the playoffs and come into this weekend's semifinal game giving up an average of 14 points on defense.
"I think our defense has gotten a lot better as the year has gone on and here in the playoffs, they have just been playing unbelievable. We somehow, have to find a way to slow them down and (Rochester) has had series where they will go one play and score and have it for 15 seconds. They're not worried about time of possession, they are worried about taking shots at the end zone."
Roper said the Rockets will play as fast as they can, which he knows will be a challenge for his defense.
"We have to get lined up quickly, be ready to play and be ready to run our stunts and what we do extremely fast," Roper said.
Page 2 of 2 - Rochester will run their entire offense out of the spread formation, dividing up pass to run, much like Marion did against Harrisburg in Week 3. If there are to be any comparisons to teams Harrisburg has matched up with, the Wildcats are that team.
And unlike other spread teams in the playoffs like Herrin, Columbia and Alton Marquette, Rochester speed isn't just as one or two positions. It's all over the field.
"It's he pace and tempo at which they plays at," Roper said. "A lot of people have a hard time giving it multiple looks, bringing pressure against it, especially when its playing fast. We have found a wrinkle in what we do to defend that and its something that we have evolved into."
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n Harrisburg's game at Rochester is the first road game for the Bulldogs since Sept. 28 at Herrin
n Rochester's Garret Dooley. (6-foot-3, 225 pounds) is going to Wisconsin as a linebacker.
n Rochester has won 49-of-last-53 games overall. The Rockets' only loss was to Springfield Sacred Heart Griffin in Week 2, where Rochester head coach Derek Leonard's father is the head coach.
n Leonard is in his eighth season and has made the playoffs seven of the last eight years. It's the Rockets 12th playoff appearance all time and the school's seventh in a row. They are 21-9 all time in the postseason.
n Rochester hasn't lost a playoff game since 2009 semifinals when they lost by one point to Metamora in the semifinals.