Injuries a concern for Althoff, Highland

News-DemocratNovember 11, 2013 

As if they don't already have enough to worry about trying to beat Springfield-area powerhouse programs Rochester and Springfield Sacred-Heart Griffin on the road in the state football quarterfinals, Althoff and Highland both are dealing with significant injuries.

Getting out of Sangamon County with a win on Saturday won't be easy for Althoff (7-4) or Highland (11-0).

Rochester (10-1) is 61-5 since 2009 and has won three straight state championships, while Griffin (11-0) has three state titles since 2005 and is 156-16 since 2000.

Griffin's head coach is Hall of Famer Ken Leonard, and his son, Derek Leonard, is the head coach at Rochester. Father and son play each other every season in the loaded Central State Eight Conference.

Althoff senior receiver, running back and cornerback Dennis Jackson suffered an ankle sprain on the second offensive play Saturday during a 21-14 victory over Herrin.

"It's pretty swollen right now," Althoff coach Ken Turner said Monday. "He's probably he's our most versatile player. It's a part of football so if he can't go, the next person knows they've got to step up. If he can't play, it's a huge loss."

Jackson has 440 yards rushing, has caught 24 passes for 351 yards and has seven touchdowns. He has 31 tackles and an interception on defense.

Senior Collin McClellan helped fill the void Saturday with an interception and fumble recovery. McClellan also had a big touchdown catch the week before against Columbia.

"He's usually the guy that covers the best receiver on the other team," Turner said. "He's playing like a senior and really is doing some good things that show up out there."

Althoff will be on the road against three-time defending Class 4A state champion Rochester at 4 p.m. Saturday.

"They're the team to beat every year," Turner said. "They play a tough schedule in a tough conference against schools that are bigger than them.

"They do a great job and until someone beats them, they are the top dogs in 4A."

Highland Bulldogs also banged up

Highland played its 36-14 second-round Class 5A victory over Bartonville Limestone with a few injured Bulldogs in the lineup and another one missing.

Highland coach Jimmy Warnecke said offensive and defensive lineman Nick Czar played with torn meniscus in his knee.

"The doctor basically told him he wasn't going to do much more damage, so he wore a brace and played," Warnecke said of Czar, who committed to the U.S. Military Academy (Army) last summer.

Highland running back Gage Geiger was limited with a high ankle sprain that required treatment all week, but still had 32 yards and a touchdown on nine carries.

"He's obviously not his normal self," Warnecke said of Geiger, who has 1,090 yards rushing and 27 TDs. "But just to see him out there and take some of the workload off of Andrew (Winning) was good."

Versatile two-way starter Logan Geiger missed Saturday's game with a concussion, but could return this week for the Bulldogs' 1 p.m. road game against Griffin.

"He's symptom-free for six days, so he'll be back practicing with us Tuesday and should be good to go on Saturday," Warnecke said.

Logan Geiger is Highland's top receiver with 21 catches for 513 yards and eight TDs. He also has 276 yards and three TDs rushing, plus 31 tackles and an interception on defense.

"We were prepared going into this year because we had a lot of depth," Warnecke said. "It was something that was very different for us last week, a little damper to our spirits, but we had some kids step up."

Springfield dominance

When Highland faced Griffin in the first round of the 2012 playoffs, the Bulldogs lost to the Cyclones 55-16.

Losing to Griffin in the playoffs is nothing new for metro-east teams, who have dropped four straight to the Cyclones by lopsided scores. The list includes Highland, Triad (42-7 in 2011), Cahokia (42-6 in 2006) and Jerseyville (40-6 in 2004).

Griffin is 9-3 in 12 playoff games all-time vs. the metro-east, with Althoff beating the Cyclones twice. Althoff won 35-31 in a 2002 quarterfinal game dubbed the "Holy War" and also won 27-14 in 1979.

Mascoutah defeated Griffin 28-21 in 1990.

"A lot of my coaching influences have come from watching Sacred Heart-Griffin," Warnecke said. "I got some of their videos from years back and it's great stuff. It's an exciting offense and much more so when you have the athletes year-in and year-out that they do."

SWC vs. Chicago

Southwestern Conference heavyweights Edwardsville and East St. Louis both have a score to settle against their quarterfinal opponents.

Edwardsville lost 40-10 to Lincoln-Way East in the 2012 7A quarterfinals, while Providence Catholic came to East St. Louis and beat the Flyers 35-13 in the 2006 7A quarterfinals.

How tough is Providence Catholic's Chicago Catholic League Blue Division Conference?

Three teams are still alive in the quarterfinals -- Mt. Carmel (10-1), Loyola Academy (10-1) and Providence Catholic (7-4) --with 9-2 St. Rita losing 20-15 to league rival Mt. Carmel in the second round.

Providence Catholic was only 1-3 in the conference.

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, or on Twitter @NormSanders

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