The Daily Register - Harrisburg, IL
  • Prep Football: Playing The Contain Game

  • Bulldogs look to put a stop to Rockets high powered offense
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  • It's there, in big bold writing, for all of the members of the Bulldog football team to see.
    There's no question what Jason Roper believes the three keys to winning Saturday are going to be.
    "We have to eliminate turnovers, be fundamentally sound and be patient."
    Those three keys are what the seventh-year head football coach at Harrisburg High School believes will be important when the Bulldogs travel to Springfield Saturday to take on Rochester in the IHSA Class 4A state semifinal playoff game at 3 p.m.
    Harrisburg (11-1) comes in winners of three straight in the playoffs and haven't lost since Week 3 at Marion, as they rattled off six straight to reach the playoffs for the seventh time in the last eight years and the 27th time in school history.
    The Bulldogs long and illustrious playoff run includes 12 postseason appearance in the past 16 years as well as being the only Southern Illinois River-to-River Conference, Ohio Division team to qualify for the playoffs each of the past four years.
    Rochester has had just a little more success on their side as they are back-to-back Class 4A Champions.
    The Rockets are appearing in the playoffs for the 12 time in school history and seventh in a row. Rochester is 21-9 all time in the postseason, having not losing a playoff game since 2009 when they were beat by Metamora by one point in the semifinals.
    Roper makes no bones about Rochester (11-1), claiming they are as good as advertised.
    "They look fast on film," he said. "When I say fast, even on defense they swarm to the football. They have some athletic kids. I think they have two linebackers that are over 6-foot and both about 225 pounds.
    Rochester's Garrett Dooley (6-3, 225) is going to Wisconsin as a linebacker and also plays running back for the Rockets.
    "They have three really good running backs," Roper added. "One of them being their quarterback (Austin Green) and Dooley.
    Rochester is considered by many the measuring stick when it comes to running the spread offense.
    Green is mostly responsible for that as he has thrown for 2,450 yards on 186-of-255 passing this year. He has 19 touchdowns to go along with seven interceptions and has college scholarship offers from Eastern Illinois, Western Illinois and Southern Illinois.
    "Green's biggest threat is to run the ball," Roper said. "He played four games for them last year when (Wes Lunt) was hurt for four games, so he has some experience coming back from last year. He's just gotten better as the year has gone on and looks really good on film."
    If Green accepts one of the three college scholarships offered, he would be the fourth straight Rochester quarterback to play Division I college football, following Wil Lunt (Western Illinois), Sean Robinson (Purdue) and Wes Lunt (Oklahoma State). Eastern Illinois is a Football Championship Subdivision school, one step below the Football Bowl Subdivision.
    Page 2 of 2 - Roper also admits there is no ratio to what Rochester does in the spread offense in terms of running and throwing. Through three weeks, Harrisburg has played a spread offensive club, relying heavily on the run aspect.
    "Rochester plays at a fast pace and a fast tempo. They are a big play team," he said. "In the playoffs they have scored on people quick and got on top of them early and that's something that we are going to have to overcome. I think that's one of their goals, is to jump out on your early."
    One goal Roper hopes to implement is teaching his kids the importance of being patient.
    "Our game plan will be to keep the ball away from them and play good on special teams. Hopefully we'll be able to run at them and move the football. Probably the toughest thing for us is going to be being patient and not trying to hit the panic button early."
    As far as preparing for Rocheter's run-and-gun offense, Roper hopes to be able to mix things up defensively and get the Rockets to guess wrong when seeing certain schemes.
    "They've played a lot of spread teams in that Springfield area. I think there is a lot of pressure in that area from community members to run the spread offense. So a lot of those schools to do it.
    "In my opinion, watching them and other schools, I see a lot of mistakes maybe running some plays that don't look very sound to me on film and Rochester is taking advantage of them, just because they are so well coached and so well disciplined in what they do. Their coach (Derek Leonard) has a tremendous grasp on what he's doing and what he wants to get done. Our key is going to be eliminate mistakes, be fundamentally sound and be patient."
    Michael Dann can be reached at hbgsports@dailyregister.com. Follow him on Twitter @spydieshooter.
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