In the aftermath of an 8-3 season and despite returning several key players from a team which reached the second round of the Class 3A playoffs a year ago, Nashville coach Tim Kuhn didn’t know what to expect when the Hornets began their season in August.
But did Kuhn did expect his Hornets squad to still be playing less then a week before Thanksgiving?
“Honestly? No. I knew we would be decent. I just didn’t know if we could overcome the loss of so many key players, several of which are playing at the next (college) level,’’ Kuhn said. “But here we are. Playing in the state semifinals. I really couldn’t be any prouder of a group of kids.”
Seeded 11th, Nashville will attempt to qualify for a state title game for the first time since 1998 and just the second time in school history when it travels north to take on the 12th-seed Auburn Trojans in a Class 2A state semifinal on Saturday at 2 p.m.
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The game will be a rematch of a Class 3A second round game in 2009 that was won by Nashville 47-41.
Kuhn expects another close game on Saturday.
“We’re the 11th seed, they are 12th. If you look at the points scored and given up this season, I think we’re within five or six with them (Auburn) in both areas,’’ Kuhn said. “I’m expecting a close game on Saturday.’’
▪ SATURDAY’S GAME: Nashville (9-3) at Auburn (9-3), 2 p.m.
▪ PLAYOFF HISTORY: Nashville is in the playoffs for the 16th time and has a playoff record of 21-15. The Hornets placed second in the 1998 Class 2A playoffs, reached the semifinals in 2004 and were in the state quarterfinals in 1997 and 2009. Auburn is in the state playoffs for the 27th time and has a playoff history of 32-26. The Trojans have reached the state semifinals five times since 2002, but have never played in a state title game.
▪ WHAT’S AT STAKE: The winner of the Nashville-Auburn game will advance to the Class 2A state title game on Friday at Northern Illinois University’s Huskies Stadium. They will play the winner of the other semifinal game between Annawan-Wethersfield and Tri-Valley. The title contest will be the second of four state title games on Friday and will begin at 1 p.m.
▪ WEATHER FORECAST: Kuhn said earlier this week that temperatures at gametime were expected to be in the upper 30’s with strong winds and with a chance of snow.
But the Hornets coach doesn’t mind in the least.
“A week before Thanksgiving in the Midwest. What kind of weather do you expect?” Kuhn said, laughing. “I think its kind of cool. I don’t think it matters to our kids. We’ll play them in the parking lot, the gymnasium, baseball field... whereever they like. This is the time of year as a high school football player or coach in Illinois, wants to be playing. I’m sure their are hundreds of schools who would gladly change places with us today.’’
▪ CLEANING UP ON THE SANGAMO CONFERENCE: Nashville will be playing against its third Sangamo Conference time in four postseason games this season. The Hornets defeated New Berlin in week one of the playoffs 31-28 then defeated Athens 35-14 last week.
SCOUTING THE HORNETS
Voted as Class 2A All-state selections on the Illinois Football Coaches Association which was released on Friday, senior running back Hunter Schultze and wide receiver-defensive lineman Royce Newman will lead the Hornets hopes for a berth in the state title game.
Schultze (1,153 yards, 12 TD’s) has combined with running back mates Jaris Dalman (339 yards, 5TD’s) and Kyle Schnitker (550 yards, 10TD”s) to form a lethal running back trio, while senior quarterback Andrew Kash (86-of-138 for 1,343 yards and 13TD’s) has also turned it up a notch in the postseason.
Newman, a University of Missouri recruit, has 32 catches for 662 yards and nine touchdowns, while adding 65 tackles and eight quarterbacks sacks on defense.
On defense, four Nashville players, led by linebacker Chase Stanowski (130 tackles) have 90 or more tackles including Nick Brown (118), Bryce PaszKiewicz (103) and Schultze (98).
“The major reason we are playing on Saturday is that in the last three weeks we have excelled in all three phases of the game — offense, defense and special teams,’’ Kuhn said. “On offense, we’ve been able to move the football and sustain drives, on defense we’ve made plays when we’ve had too and our special teams have just been very solid.
“I’m just hoping it lasts for a couple of more weeks.”
SCOUTING THE TROJANS
When asked to describe Auburn, Kuhn didn’t hesitate.
“Explosive, extremely explosive,” he said.
One look at the Trojans statistics and its not hard to see why. Led by senior all-state wide receiver Drew Points (88 receptions, 1,455 yards and 16 TD’s), Auburn has the speed and playmakers to score from anywhere on the field and on every play.
Nashville’s mission on Saturday? Don’t give up the big plays.
“They like to spread the field and get the ball in the hands of their playmakers,” Kuhn said. “If we can make them march the ball down the field against and not give up any quick strikes, I think we’ll be alright.”
The running game is led by senior halfback Ryan McLaughlin (1,421 yards, 21 TD’s) and quarterback Drew Chance (793 yards, 10 TD’s).
Chance has also been nearly unstoppable with his arm, throwing for 2,158 yards with 22 scoring passes. The Trojans defense is led by Sydney Landers (136 tackles) and Evan Patterson (127 tackles).
“They run a basic 4-3 defense but they’ll mix it up,” Kuhn said. “The thing about it is that offensively we do things that teams don’t see very often and they sometimes don’t know how defense us. We just have to continue to make the proper adjustments when we need too.”