Waubonsie Valley coach Paul Murphy likes the performance of his defense, but acknowledges that it will be put to the test against undefeated Edwardsville at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
That’s when the teams will meet in the opening round of the Class 8A playoffs at the Edwardsville Sports Complex, where rain is expected to be falling at kickoff.
“When you’ve got an inside-outside combination like that, absolutely it is (a challenge),” Taylor said of the Warriors facing the talented Edwardsville senior running back duo of Jackson Morrissey (529 yards, nine touchdowns) and Kendell Davis (406 yards, nine TDs). “It comes down to reading your keys and executing the plan we give our kids to try to shut them down
“On defense, we’ve got very, very good team speed. That’s what helps us. We’re not very big on defense, but we run to the ball well, we tackle you and find ways to make plays.”
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That’s exactly what Tigers coach Matt Martin has seen on film from the Warriors.
“They’re a better team than their record shows,” Martin said. “Defensively, besides their middle linebacker and their fullback kid, No. 42 (senior Max Ihry), there’s nobody that really stands out. They’re just solid. They hustle to the ball, they tackle well, they don’t give up big plays and they don’t give up a lot of points. And they’re well-coached. It will be a challenge.
“We always hope people make some mistakes (on defense). It doesn’t look like they do that often. We’ll have to make some plays.”
Waubonsie Valley (5-4) at Edwardsville (9-0), 1:30 p.m.
Edwardsville completed a perfect regular season with a 49-0 win at Granite City. Waubonsie Valley was upset by host Wheaton North 9-7.
Eyes on Ihry
Ihry is a grinder in the backfield and a hard hitter at linebacker. The 6-foot-1, 215-pounder has rushed for 908 yards and 10 TDs out of Waubonsie Valley’s option offense, and when the ball’s in his hands, the Warriors like their chances.
“He’s a throwback,” Taylor said. “He’s a John Riggins (-type) running back. And he’s an iron man; he doesn’t come off the field.
“We’re primarily a running team. Hopefully, they don’t see a whole lot of option down there and we’ll be giving them something they’ve got to really prepare for. We play a hard-nosed brand of football. Our philosophy is, ‘Let’s take what the defense gives us.’”
Martin described Ihry as being “a load.”
“You’re not going to arm-tackle him,” Martin said. “You’ve got to be in position and you’ve got to put a shoulder pad into him and hopefully gang-tackle him. I don’t want us to be in a situation where we’re one-on-one with him too often.”
Other key players for the Warriors include senior quarterback Jack Connolly, sophomore tailback Tanner Westwood, senior center Tyler Caldwell and junior right tackle Dan Dominiak.
Calling the shots
Martin said Edwardsville will start junior Brenden Dickmann at quarterback. Quarterback Riley Jones’ knee injury has healed, but he will not be eligible to play.
Dickmann has played well and has thrown for five TDs.
“I think he’s done a tremendous job and I think he’ll only get better with more reps,” Martin said. “It just goes to show we’re more than one kid. We’ve had other positions where we’ve had injuries or kids out for whatever reason and we’ve been able to overcome that.”
Murphy can attest to the weekly rigors of the black-and-blue DuPage Valley Conference, of which the Warriors are a member. Any team that advances to the postseason from that league will provide formidable opposition for any foe.
But Murphy also is familiar with the Southwestern Conference and can easily recall an unplesant memory from four years ago in a playoff opener against Belleville East.
“We have a lot of respect for the league Edwardsville is in because four years ago, Belleville East was 5-4 and we were 8-1 and they beat us at our own place 14-7,” Murphy said, sending a reminder that a 5-4 team that eked into the playoffs should never be taken lightly. “We understand the concept. I think it’s going to be a great football game.”