The Herrin football team looks to advance to the Class 4A state quarterfinals when it hosts Tolono Unity at 2 p.m. today.
Unity has been a state power since Scott Hamilton took over as head coach in 1994. The Rockets have played in the state championship game five times during that span.
“They are athletic, have great team speed and are very well-coached,” said Herrin coach Jason Karnes. “They’re one of the better 3A/4A programs in the state year in and year out. They definitely present some problems for us.”
Herrin (9-1) defeated Paris, 63-28, in the opening round of the playoffs. Unity (9-1) beat Pontiac, 61-42.
Steven Migut, a four-year starter, three of which are at quarterback, totaled nearly 300 yards of offense and five touchdowns a week ago.
“He has played in a lot of big games for us,” Hamilton said. “That ability to be able to both run and pass makes him a pretty special player. For him to have his most success, he just has to stay patient in the passing game. He has really matured this year in understanding how to play the position and be a leader.”
The Tigers could pretty much score at will against Paris in the first round. Jase Gosha, Tate Johnson and Jackson Yates each rushed for more than 100 yards and accounted for all nine touchdowns.
“I think he does a really good job of spreading the ball between his backs,” Hamilton said of Herrin. “It keeps you off balance, not only with which back will get it, but whether it is going to go inside or out. What makes their backfield so good is that those guys can hit it inside and out. Gosha can pound it inside a lot, and then he bounces outside and hits the edge on you.”
Chance Karnes, a sophomore, hasn’t gotten a chance to throw or run the ball much at all this year. The Herrin quarterback looked pretty good completing all four of his passes for 60 yards against Paris.
“He has definitely grown up and improved each week, and for our team that’s big because we run the ball so much,” Karnes said of his son. “But if it’s a play-action pass or an opportunity for him to throw it, he’s made some great throws. He made a couple really good throws to our tight end, Robert Anthony, last week. He has got to keep making calls at the line of scrimmage and running the show.”
Dawson Kaiser, a receiver who also runs the ball well, and Keaton Eckstein, a running back, are key cogs to the Unity offense, which has been very good this season.
“This is a good group of seniors, and as sophomores, they went to DeKalb and played in the 3A title game,” Hamilton said. “We lost a real tough quarterfinal game in double overtime with this group of kids last year. They have a lot of experience, and we had high expectations for them coming in. All in all, our season has kind of gone as we hoped it would go.”
No team has been able to slow down Herrin’s powerful rushing attack this season. The Tigers will need another great effort from their offensive line and running backs to advance to the quarterfinals.
“We need to rotate our backs through and try to wear them down like we’ve done all year,” Karnes said. “But they’ve got a lot of guys that only go one way from watching film, so we definitely have to control the line of scrimmage and the clock.”