The most important folks on the candy-striped field Saturday at Lindenwood University-Belleville just might be the defensive players for Althoff and Rochester.
Rochester (10-1) visits Belleville with a string of five straight Class 4A state titles and 27 straight playoff wins. The Rockets’ no-huddle, full-throttle offense averages 55 points while producing 605 points, 5,649 yards and 89 touchdowns.
Althoff (11-0) averaged 47.9 points while producing 527 points, 5,372 yards and 76 TDs. These two offensive machines have torched opposing defenses for a combined 1,132 points, 11,021 yards and 165 TDs.
“I think both teams have pretty good defenses, but they don’t get enough credit because of the scoring that both team’s offenses are doing,” Althoff coach Ken Turner said. “They make a lot of big plays an they run and throw the ball well. Tackling is a must for us, we must tackle guys in open space. They thrive on the big play, so we’ve got to tackle well.”
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Rochester coach Derek Leonard agrees the defenses could be under fire. The Rockets’ only loss was a 53-34 setback against Central State Eight Conference rival Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin (11-0), the top-ranked team in Class 6A.
I don’t know if it ever gets old. We’re used to it, but I will say that every game’s a big game no matter where we go.
Rochester coach Derek Leonard on his team’s incredible run of success
“They’re really athletic in every position,” Leonard said of Althoff. “They’re talented and they do a lot of things. You have to be on your game on every play because if you make a mistake they’re going to go yard. They don’t have many weaknesses.
“They remind me a lot athletically of Griffin. I don’t know if we’ve played anybody else as athletic as them. You’ve got to somewhat control the big play and we have to score.”
▪ SATURDAY’S GAME
Rochester (10-1) vs. Althoff (11-0), 3 p.m. at Lindenwood University in Belleville. The stadium capacity is listed as 4,129, but there’s a good bet the crowd will be larger given the teams and the hype surrounding the game.
Rochester was first in the final 4A state rankings, Althoff was fourth.
▪ PLAYOFF HISTORY
Rochester owns five consecutive 4A state titles and is 35-9 in the postseason. Althoff won state titles in 1980, 1989 and 1990 and is 38-18 in the playoffs. Rochester defeated Althoff 50-21 in the 2013 4A quarterfinals.
Rochester’s signature is a hurry-up offense that has to be seen to be believed. There is only a momentary break between snaps with offensive linemen sprinting to the line ready to roll on the next play.
“Our kids take pride in that, from conditioning to how we play,” Leonard said. “That’s kind of our thing. We’re going to play fast.”
The Rockets score fast, too.
Tackling is a must for us, we must tackle guys in open space. They thrive on the big play, so we’ve got to tackle well.
Althoff coach Ken Turner
Their top weapons are senior running back Kenny Hedges (1,338 yards, 26 TDs), 6-foot-5 senior quarterback Danny Zeigler (152-of-232, 2,872 yards, 35 TDs, four interceptions) and 6-6 junior receiver Collin Stallworth (44 catches, 860 yards, 13 TDs).
There’s more firepower in junior twins D’ante Cox (41 catches, 803 yards, nine TDs) and Avante’ Cox (16 catches, 465 yards, seven TDs).
Hedges(5-8, 163) is the engine that helps drive the offense. He has 257 yards rushing and six TDs in the last two playoff games.
“He’s our heart and soul,” Leonard said. “He’s just a little guy but man, he runs hard and he’s just a great kid. Al lhe does is make plays. The last few games he’s really carried us and been our big playmaker.”
Turner said the Rockets give teams a lot to think about.
“They’ve got a good mix,” he said. “They’re good up front and they run the ball pretty well. I think Hedges makes them go. If they could run it 30 plays in a row, they’d run it 30 plays in a row.”
Defensive standouts include defensive backs Avante’ Cox (77 tackles, five sacks, 10 tackles for loss), senior linebacker Brent Sommer (49 tackles, 5.5 sacks), linebacker Mike McNicholas (45 tackles, 4.5 sacks) and safety Collin Etherton (71 tackles, seven tackles for loss).
By the end of the game the Crusaders could have a 3,000-yard passer, two 1,000-yard rushers and two 1,000-yard receivers.
It starts with senior quarterback Jordan Augustine (179-of-246, school-record 2,988 yards, 36 TDs, eight interceptions; 268 yards rushing, seven TDs). His top targets are junior C.J. Coldon (52 catches, school-record 1,131 yards, 14 TDs), Jackson State recruit Keenen Young (61 catches, 974 yards, 16 TDs), Illinois-Chicago basketball recruit Tarkus Ferguson (29 catches, 376 yards, two TDs) and junior Division I basketball prospect Jordan Goodwin (23 catches, 289 yards, two TDs).
Althoff is also solid at running back with senior Malik Easley (982 yards, 14 TDs) and junior Jaylon Bester (960 yards, 17 TDs).
On defense, Althoff relies on linebackers Bryson Strong (126 tackles, nine sacks) and Chris Branson (107 tackles, three sacks), lineman Christian Wills (65 tackles, eight sacks), Coldon (62 tackles, two interceptions) at safety and Edwyn Brown (five interceptions) at cornerback.
Turner knows his 11-0 team is still considered an underdog against the five-time defending state champs. He hopes Althoff’s previous big-game experience in basketball and football can help pull off an upset.
“They’re fired up for the opportunity to play a really good team,” Turner said. “They’ve had the chance to experience big games, to be on the road in big places and playing big games at home.
“The past is the past, we’ve got to be prepared for this team. Playing at home, our crowd’s going to be fired up and excited, but there’s going to be a whole lot of people there to see this one.”
High school football playoff schedule
Saturday’s Quarterfinal Games
Rochester (10-1) vs. Althoff (11-0) at Lindenwood University-Belleville. 3 p.m.
Taylorville (11-0) at Mater Dei (8-3). 2 p.m.
Athens(7-4) at Nashville (8-3). 2 p.m.