HERRIN — The Herrin Tigers came from behind with 19 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to eliminate five-time state finalist Tolono Unity, 33-18, and advance to the quarterfinals of the IHSA Class 4A football playoffs Saturday.
“I’m very proud of our guys for win number 10 and getting to the Elite Eight,” said Herrin coach Jason Karnes. “It’s all about the heart and the guts of a team and not about the size. These are hard-nosed kids who, week in and week out, day after day, come to practice ready to work.”
After two home playoff games at the aptly named Graveyard, Herrin (10-1) hits the road to take on defending champion Rochester (11-0) next weekend.
The Tigers ran all over the Rockets, rushing for 411 yards, led by running backs Jackson Yates with 172 yards on nine carries and Jase Gosha with 166 yards on 27 carries.
“Twenty-seven carries is extremely a lot for me, but they trusted me with the ball,” Gosha said. “On the last drive I was wearing down for sure, but the offensive line was asked to get the drive in and they got the job done so I could get into the end zone.”
The Tiger defense held Unity to 187 yards rushing and 119 passing after the Rockets scored 61 points the week before.
“We got energized in the fourth quarter,” Karnes said. “We had a little more step that got their defense winded a little bit, and we took advantage of that. With six minutes to go, we felt really good about where we were.”
Herrin led 7-6 after the first quarter on a two-yard run by Gosha and 14-12 at the half on a 46-yard run by Yates.
“Jackson gives us that extra step and when he gets around the corner he can take it to the house,” Karnes said. “Gosha also gets into the secondary but he does it by bulling you over."
Herrin started the second half at their own 47 after the Rockets failed on an attempted onside kick. However, Unity got the ball back when Tiger quarterback Chase Karnes was picked off at the 28 by Dawson Kaiser, who returned it to the 33.
The Rockets drove the length of the field on 13 plays, starting with a 15-yard run around left end by running back Keaton Esckstein and ending with a one-yard draw by quarterback Steven Migul. The two-point conversion pass failed, leaving the Rockets with an 18-14 lead.
The Tigers took over on their own 39 after the kickoff and after Gosha got the drive off to a good start with an eight-yard gain over right tackle, the senior was stopped for a one-yard gain before both teams were issued personal fouls, including Gosha, for extracurricular activity after the play ended.
When play resumed, Herrin was penalized five-yards for illegal procedure, leaving the Tigers with 3rd-and-6 at the Herrin 48. Yates took a pitch around left end and raced nine yards to keep the drive going.
Gosha carried the ball six times over the next 10 plays, finishing with the game-winning touchdown on a 2nd-and-goal from the 10.
After successfully kicking two extra points with the wind in the first half, Jake Baumgarte missed his first wide right against the 15-mile an hour wind, leaving the Tigers with a precarious 20-18 lead with 8:27 left in the game.
The Rockets took over on their own 22. Kaiser gained seven yards on first down and Eckstein 16 on second down, but the Rockets were flagged for holding, leaving Unity with a 2nd-and-11 from the 21.
Migut overthrew a wide open Kaiser down the middle. On the next play, Unity tried a halfback pass, which fooled the Tiger defense, but Jake Reno's throw was too long by at least five yards.
After a 61-yard punt, the Tigers began their next drive on their own 18. On second and five, Yates took a pitch around left end and raced down the left sideline eluding a tackler around the 15 for 77 yards and the touchdown. Once again Baumgarte’s extra point kick sailed wide right, still leaving the Tigers with only a one-score lead, 26-18 with 6:25 remaining.
On the next possession, Unity faced a 4th-and-5 at their own 37. Eckstein caught a pass in the left flat, but Kyle Matuszczak and Robert Anthony stopped him two yards short of the first down, turning the ball back to the offense.
With 4:05 remaining, Gosha took over carrying on every down of the seven-play, 40 yards drive finishing with an eight-yard touchdown after converting a 4th-and-1 from the 10. This time Baumgarte’s kick was down the middle, upping the lead to 33-18 with 1:08 remaining.
The game started with Unity driving 86 yards on 11 plays with Eckstein scoring from the 16 to take the lead 6-0 after missing the extra point kick.
Herrin came right back, driving 63 yards on six plays with Gosha gaining 29 yards over right guard down to the two and running through the same hole for the touchdown. Baumgarte kicked the extra point with the wind and the Tigers took the lead 7-6 with 5:40 still remaining in the first quarter.
After the defense forced two punts the Tigers started at their own 10 after a 69-yard punt by Migut. On the second play, Matuszczak broke around left end for a 54-yard gain, but the Tigers were called for an illegal block, leaving him with a 37-yard run and a first down at the Herrin 43.
After a five yard gain by Gosha and six by Yates over left guard set up a 1st-and-10 at the Unity 46, the Tigers went to the well once again and Yates got outside to the left down the sideline for the touchdown. Baumgarte again kicked the point and the Tigers upped their lead to 14-6 with 7:48 remaining in the half.
With 1:42 remaining, Unity took over on its own 31 and needed just three plays to score. On 2nd-and-8, Migut connected with Hunter Olson for 26 yards and then connected with Kaiser for the remaining 38. Migut was stuffed on the two-point conversion, leaving the Tigers with a two-point halftime lead.