To say Anna-Jonesboro is a on a roll as it prepares to host the first round of the 3A playoffs at The Pit against Hillsboro on Saturday at 2 p.m. is an understatement.
The Wildcats completed their regular season undefeated for the fifth time in school history and third time under head coach Brett Detering.
“The players were excited about finishing off the season undefeated,” Detering said. “Last year, our season ended on our own field and our kids wanted to get back in the playoffs and get a chance to host another playoff game with — hopefully — a different result.”
Anna-Jonesboro (9-0) had made the playoffs the last two seasons and 17 of the last 18 seasons during the 21-year tenure of Detering. Last week the Wildcats achieved the feat with a 62-38 win over Benton at The Pit.
“When the season opened, we weren’t sure what kind of team we had,” Detering said. “We knew we had three big offensive threats in fullback Jayce Turner, quarterback Bryce Osman and running back Arieh Hart, but the big question mark was the offensive line, which had only one starter returning.”
The two schools have never faced each other, but the two coaches have when Hillsboro coach Aaron Duff was head coach of Greenville. The Wildcats won both times, eliminating the Comets in the first round in 2003 and in the second in 2006.
“Hillsboro presents a match-up problem,” Detering said. “They are a very big team with a physical running game. They also got two wide receivers that are big kids.”
Turner leads the Wildcats in rushing with 1,358 yards on 196 carries and 28 touchdowns. Turner’s best game came in Week 4 against Nashville, when the senior rushed for 270 yards on 21 carries and scored six touchdowns.
“Jayce has been a workhorse for us,” Detering said. “We’ve relied on him to have big games for us. He not only has taken a lot of our carries, but he also sets up the option game..”
Hart is a dual threat, rushing for 373 yards on 49 carries with three touchdowns, while also returning two kickoffs for touchdowns: 88 yards in Week 2 and 85 yards last week.
Osman has 645 yards rushing on 82 carries and 14 touchdowns while completing 20 of 36 passes for 489 yards, with four touchdowns and just one interception.
“Bryce has done a nice job of reading the option and our offensive line has done a nice job allowing us to keep drives alive by taking chunks of yardage and being able to convert first downs,” Detering said.
Hillsboro (6-3) comes in having won three in a row, and six of its last seven games. This is the second year in a row and third time in the last four years the Toppers have made the playoffs under Duff. The Toppers are 4-0 on the road this season.
“We are peaking and healthy,” Duff said. “Weeks one and two we played two very tough teams and didn’t have our identity yet, but we changed some things, like moving our fullback from the offensive line. We returned only one offensive lineman and it took two games for them to gel. If we play turnover free football we can play with anyone.”
The Toppers are averaging 33 points a game overall, but during the last seven games have upped their average to 40. Defensively, Hillsboro is giving up 15 points a game while shutting out its last two opponents, 49-0 and 48-0.
Senior quarterback Dillon Civitate has passed for 1,077 yards with 14 touchdowns and two interceptions, while rushing for 200 yards and one touchdown.
“We run the old Maryland I with three backs in the backfield in a straight line as our base,” Duff said. “We’re predominantly a running team, but we do break out of that and run some spread going from double tight, to one receiver, to two splits.”
Senior running backs Gunner Lentz and Christian Hernandez are the leading rushers. Lenz has 841 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns, has thrown three touchdown passes with 108 yards passing, and has six catches for 106 yards and one touchdown. Hernandez has 646 yards rushing and six touchdowns, with seven catches for 89 yards.
“Hernandez is about 210 pounds and is more of a hard-nosed, straight ahead runner, while Lentz is a smaller guy with quickness,” Duff said. “Liam Dugan is our fullback and sort of an extension of our offensive line.”
The leading receivers are junior tight end Jordan Gregg, with 14 catches for 464 yards and nine touchdowns, and senior wide receiver Drake Paden, with 12 catches for 400 yards and six touchdowns.
Defensively, the Toppers run a base three-man line and mix it with a four-man front. Dugan leads the team in tackles with 84 from his linebacker position.
Hernandez (68 tackles) at linebacker, senior Peyton Tester (62) and Gregg (61) at defensive end are also top defenders. Senior strong safety Dalton Deming leads the team with four interceptions and Lenz at defensive back has two.