Though Edwardsville Tigers football coach Matt Martin had an idea his team might be really, really good, he didn't go around telling everyone they would be 9-0 in the regular season.
"Sometimes I get wrapped up in how good everybody else is," said Martin, whose 9-0 Tigers won the Southwestern Conference. "I worry if we can beat anybody. You take it one week at a time."
Friday's Class 7A first-round playoff game: (Tinley Park) Andrew (5-4) at Edwardsville (9-0), 7 p.m.
Because of the superlative performance of Edwardsville junior quarterback Dan Marinko, who has thrown for 2,279 yards and 26 touchdowns, the Tiger defense sometimes gets lost in the background.
That definitely should not be the case for a rock-solid unit which has allowed only 75 points (8.3 points per game) while posting three shutouts.
"I think we've got some tough kids, and kids that buy into technique and give a good effort," Martin said. "They try to do their job on every play. It's really that simple, and then they hustle to the football."
Among the defensive leaders are junior linebacker Zac Rujawitz, junior lineman Jeff Clubb, linebacker Cameron Thronebery and defensive backs D'Anthony Knight and Craig James.
"When we say team defense, there's a reason for it," Martin said. "Everybody doing their job, winning their individual battles."
Scouting Andrew: The Thunderbolts were one of four playoff qualifiers from the Southwestern Suburban Red Conference. They had won three straight games before losing 42-27 last Friday to Bradley-Bourbonnais.
Their top players are Western Michigan recruit Jarvion Franklin at running back and an experienced, versatile quarterback in Jacob Platt.
"He's getting the big yards when we need it," Andrew coach Jim Malec said of Franklin. "He brings the load with him when he's running."
Platt's top two receivers are Danny Ball and Nino Sanfilippo.
Defense has been a problem at times for Andrew, which has surrendered at least 35 points five times, losing four of those games. They did play a tough schedule that included 8-1 squad (Midlothian) Bremen, (New Lenox) Lincoln-Way West and (Frankfort) Lincoln-Way North.
"We definitely had our ups and downs and I attribute that to a lot of things, including kids still trying to get some experience on defense," Malec said. "We've got to attribute that to some of our opponents, too."
Edwardsville's offense: Marinko continues to break records and pile up yardage and points, but he also has a wealth of talent at receiver and on the offensive line.
The Tigers are averaging 42.1 points per game, the most by any 7A playoff qualifier.
"It's really about us, about execution and us doing the little things right," Martin said. "Playing physical. I think we play to our strengths."
Andrew players to watch: RB Jarvion Franklin (162 carries, 1,221 yards, 16 TDs); QB Jacob Platt (111-of-181, 1,540 yards, 17 TDs); WR Danny Ball (36 catches, 474 yards, 5 TDs); WR Nino Sanfilippo (25 catches, 437 yards, 6 TDs); DB Jake O'Connor; OLB Nick Ennis.
Edwardsville players to watch: QB Dan Marinko (141-of-228, 2,279 yards, 26 TDs, 4 Ints.; 44 carries, 416 yards, 9 TDs); WR Darius Crochrell (54 catches, 746 yards, 12 TDs); WR Isaiah Michl (29 catches, 591 yards, 7 TDs); LB Zac Rujawitz (65 tackles, 2 sacks); DL Jeff Clubb (43 tackles 3 sacks); DB D'Anthony Knight (31 tackles, 4 Ints.); RB-DB Craig James (50 carries, 301 yards, 3 TDs; 22 tackles, 2 Ints.)
Worth noting: Andrew is 1-1 against metro-east teams in the playoffs, losing 20-4 to East St. Louis in the 1991 6A semifinals and beating Belleville East 31-21 in a 2007 8A game.