Two high-scoring teams with dynamic running games will meet for the first time when undefeated Anna-Jonesboro travels to Vandalia to take on the Vandals at Mark Greer Stadium Saturday at 2 p.m. in the quarterfinals of the IHSA 3A football playoffs.
“We’ve done everything we needed to do,” said A-J coach Brett Detering. “We’ve been able to beat 11 opponents, sometimes it’s been pretty and sometimes not, so I’ve been proud of our kids finding a way to win.”
Anna-Jonesboro (11-0) finished the regular season undefeated for the fifth time in program history and the third time during Detering’s 21-year tenure.
Since 2000, the Wildcats have made it to quarterfinals six times — the last in 2011 — and advanced to the semifinals in 2003 and 2006.
“I’m really pleased with our defense,” Detering said. “We had given up some points early in the season, but despite giving up some yardage overall our defense has come around the last two weeks. Vandalia has scored over 500 points this season, so we’ve got our work cut out for us trying to slow them down. Their size is a concern on the both lines and that’s something we haven’t seen this year.”
Vandalia (8-3) advances to the quarterfinals for the first time. The Vandals have been eliminated in the first round their last four playoff appearances, including the last two years under coach Jason Clay.
The teams have faced two common opponents this season.
The Wildcats opened the playoffs with a 22-8 win over Hillsboro and the Vandals beat the Hilltoppers, 26-7, the second week of the season. Last week Anna-Jonesboro beat Pana, 29-14, while Vandalia lost to the Panthers, 63-55, in the final game of the regular season.
‘I think Vandalia is a different team from three weeks ago,” Detering said. “They are playing their best football right now.”
The game will feature the Wildcats' option rushing attack, averaging 43 points a game, led by senior quarterback Bryce Osman and running back Jayce Turner. Meanwhile, the Vandals' spread offense averages 46 points, led by sophomore quarterback Matthew Wells and junior running back Trevor Smalls. Smalls comes in with a team-record 2,055 yards rushing and 28 rushing touchdowns. He is averaging 9.7 yards on 216 carries.
“We try to spread it around and be balanced,” Clay said. “We’ve got a big offensive line that does a good job of run and pass blocking. All season we’ve always put the points up, but A-J is pretty stout on defense holding Pana to 14 points and that’s saying something, so we’ll have our hands full.”
The Wildcats are averaging 321 yards a game rushing while scoring 56 rushing touchdowns, and 56 yards a game passing, with seven touchdowns.
“Turner and Osman have played together for two and a half seasons, so that experience shows,” Detering said. “The line has been playing well and that is key because we’re more run-oriented than Vandalia. Because teams have to commit to stop the run, that opens up an opportunity to have a big play in the passing game.”
For the season, Osman has completed 24-of-46 passes for 588 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions.
Senior Arieh Hart is the leading receiver with 16 catches for 372 yards (23 average) and four touchdowns. Junior Damien Crisp has five catches for 154 yards and two touchdowns.
Defensively, Anna-Jonesboro is giving up 17 points a game, but only 11 during the playoffs.
Vandalia beat undefeated Fairfield, 41-14, in the first round and is coming off a 24-14 win over Greenville. Last week, the Vandals rushed for 327 yards, with Smalls gaining 220 on 28 carries scoring two touchdowns. Smalls also completed one pass for a 52-yard touchdown to senior wide receiver Marcus Zimmerman.
“Smalls is a powerful kid that can move pretty well,” Clay said. “He’s a 100-meter dash state qualifier, but he’s also the strongest kid on the team. He’s got a powerful lower half and good top end speed. If he breaks through people have a tough time catching him. He was a quarterback growing up, so he is a threat with the option pass.”
Offensively, the Vandals are averaging 266 yards rushing and 173 passing per game with 43 rushing touchdowns. Wells has completed 94-of-162 passes for 1,776 yards and 21 touchdown passes with nine interceptions.
Defensively, the Vandals run out of a 4-4 base and are giving up 28 points a game.