Four Downs: Sectional Semifinals

Here's a rundown of the football action for the sectional semifinals.

Bears @ Wildcats

Teams: Evansville Central (8-2) at Jasper (6-3), 7:30 p.m., Jerry Brewer Alumni Stadium.

Series: Since 2004, the Wildcats lead series 7-2.

Last meeting: Central defeated Jasper 26-15 in last season’s sectional semifinal.

1.) Wildcats coach Tony Lewis is preparing the boys to face a Bears team which he called explosive and athletic. Central’s offense can run up the scoreboard quickly; they’ve scored over 40 points five times this season, which includes 49 and 41 point outings in their last two games against Evansville North and Evansville Reitz respectively. The Bears’ main offensive weapon is senior running back Brennan Shutte, who has totaled 773 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. The Bears also have a pair of brothers in senior Tre’jon Evans (612 yds., eight TDs) and junior Teorien Evans (334, four touchdowns) who are capable of big plays from their receiver spots.

2.) The Bears use a three-man front as their base look on defense, but they’ll also walk up safeties or linebackers to create five-man fronts to overwhelm the offensive line. They’ll also overload one side of the offensive line, especially against running teams, when they decide to send pressure to the backfield. Lewis says recognizing those looks and calling out the right blocking schemes at the line is a must for the line and sophomore signal-caller Blake Mann. The Bears’ defense is responsible for 17 interceptions and 19 sacks on the season.

3.) Lewis believes that the best defense will be a slow, deliberate offense that can create sustained drives and keep the Bears’ offense off the field. He’ll also look to employ deeper zones on defense to keep the Lewis brothers from getting behind the defense and the coaches have been stressing the importance of solid tackling against Shutte, who is capable of fighting through weak tackle attempts and bouncing around the field until he finds space to work.

4.) “Our kids need to believe that we got a good plan,” said Lewis. “Our goal is to be as physical as we can with them and use our discipline in the option game and make them play responsibility football.”

Raiders @ Cougars

Teams: Class 3A No. 10 Southridge (8-2) at North Harrison (4-5), 7:30 p.m.

Series: Since 2015, Southridge leads the series 2-0.

Last meeting: Southridge defeated North Harrison 24-7 in the 2017 sectional semifinal.

1.) Last week marked a big return for Southridge as junior quarterback Chase Taylor played for the first time since breaking his collarbone in week three against Forest Park. Taylor stepped right back into the starting role and didn’t miss a beat as he finished with three total touchdowns (1 passing, 2 rushing) in the 43-14 win over Mt. Vernon.

2.) Looking at the stats for North Harrison it’s very clear that their mission is to run the football until the other team stops them. But Raiders coach Scott Buening says that the way the Cougars implement their power-run game presents a different challenge than the normal run schemes of the teams Southridge plays during the season. Multiple lead blockers, two and three tight end sets and unbalanced lines all work toward creating space for their backs and the Cougars used it to average 209.5 rushing yards a game this year.

3.) Defensively, the Cougars are also a bit quirky with the way they use their defensive ends and linebackers to contain the football. Their pressure and blitz packages come from different angles than what the Raiders are used to seeing, and the Cougars will also do different things with sending corners in motion to match motions in the backfield. Buening says that prepping the different blocking assignments and adjustments to contend with the Cougars’ scheme has been its own challenge this week.

4.) “Against these guys you gotta win upfront,” said Buening. “They’re big and strong, it’s what they build their system around. We told the guys this week you gotta put your big boy pants on and go to work. Putting the scheme together is one thing, but we’re going to have to win battles up front.”

Rangers @ Warriors

Teams: Forest Park (6-4) at North Knox (7-3), 7:00 p.m.

Series: Rangers lead series 1-0.

Last meeting: Forest Park defeated North Knox 27-14 in the first round of sectional in 2017.

1.) Rangers coach Ross Fuhs says that one the first things that jumps out about the Warriors when he watches their tape is their size. They have seven linemen who weigh in at over 230 pounds, so a big point of emphasis is coaching the boys to lower their pad levels for leverage against the Warriors’ big bodies on both sides of the ball to give themselves the best chance to push and move their way through the trenches.

2.) North Knox has a very capable offense that has playmakers all over the field and have eclipsed the 50-pt mark three times this season, including a 65-point showing against Eastern Greene at the end of August. They’re led in rushing by senior running back Cole Richter (1085 yds., 15 TDs), and he’s complemented by sophomore running back Holtman Doades (728 yds. 11 TDs) and junior quarterback Reece Hammelman (508 yds., 6 TDs). Hammelman also has 10 passing touchdowns on the year.

3.) The Warriors prefer a more conservative approach to the defensive side of the ball, using their big bodies to clog the middle of the line while the ends set the edge and the linebackers make the plays. For the times they do blitz the Warriors will bring pressure off the edges with their linebackers. The Rangers are still adamant about getting their run game going, but they also think there might be opportunities to take shots down the field with play-action.

4.) “Offensively we have to do a better job of getting off the line and staying on blocks,” said Fuhs as he analyzed areas of improvement for the Rangers. “Defensively we have to shore up our tackling. Tell City broke some plays against us, so we have to make sure we get back to our good pursuit getting everyone to the football.”

Patriots @ Titans

Teams: Class 3A No. 2 Heritage Hills (10-0) at Class 3A No. 8 Gibson Southern (8-2), 8:00 p.m.

Series: The Patriots lead the series 32-10.

Last meeting: Heritage Hills defeated Gibson Southern 49-14 at home on Sept. 27.

1.) Heritage Hills pulled off quite a few feats to help them net their dominant win against Gibson Southern in their first meeting. They not only generated all of their offense (476 total yards) on the ground, but they were able to use their ground attack to carve out a 21-0 first half lead that forced the Titans into playing a catch-up game they weren’t able to finish. The Pats were also able to come away with three picks against sophomore quarterback Brady Allen.

2.) The Titans have proven to be resilient in the face of their loss to the Patriots, bouncing back to shut out their next two opponents and clawing out a last-second victory against the then No. 9 ranked Southridge Raiders to finish out their season. Gibson Southern has also been in this position before, as last year they lost to Heritage Hills 31-7 in the regular season before getting the best of the Pats 24-14 when they met again in the sectional semis.

3.) In addition to the change in the weather, Patriots coach Todd Wilkerson thinks that time of possession will be the biggest factor in Friday’s game, as the ground game for the Patriots is best suited for keeping the Titans’ explosive offense off the field. In their last meeting the Patriots held the football for over twenty-seven minutes, while the Titans possessed it for less than twenty.

4.) “A lot of our seniors played in that game last year,” said Wilkerson, reflecting on last year’s sectional exit. “When you experience something like that it really hits home. Our seniors understand going 9-0 and winning the PAC is great, but it’s not anywhere close to what we really want to end our season with.”

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