The Herrin football team is riding a six-game winning streak coming in to its Class 4A first round playoff game at home today against Paris at 2 p.m.
The Tigers (8-1) defeated Breese Central, 49-0, in Week 9.
“They’ve got some good skill players,” Herrin coach Jason Karnes said of Paris. “Their quarterback is really good, and he runs the ball well and throws the ball. He is elusive. They have a good receiver and a good running back. They seem to have good overall team speed. Anytime you’re 2-7 one year and go 6-3 the next year, you’re doing something right.”
Paris, which also has the nickname the Tigers, is coached by Jeremy Clodfelder. He was the head coach at Benton from 2007 to 2015. In just his second season on the job, he led Paris (6-3) to its third playoff appearance in school history.
“We tried to build this in the offseason, and it’s been a lot of fun for the players and the whole town,” Clodfelder said. “We came here on the heels of an 0-9 team. We went 2-7 last year, but it was a weird 2-7. It was so competitive from where they had been. When you look at their 0-9 season the year before, so many of those games were running clocks. We were losing close games last year.”
Although Herrin is certainly the favorite in this contest, it could be without its top offensive player, Jase Gosha, who suffered a rib injury in Week 9. Gosha has rushed for 1,331 yards and 24 touchdowns this season.
“As of right now, he’s going to play, and we’re going to test him out,” Karnes said. “He’s going to try. He may be limited, but we’ll know for sure on Saturday. It’s basically a question of whether he can withstand a certain kind of pain. He’s a senior, and he deserves the opportunity. If he can go, he’s going to get out there and play.”
If Gosha can’t play or is extremely limited, Herrin has plenty of options. Tate Johnson, Jackson Yates and Kyle Matuszczak have all rushed for 100 yards in a game at least once this season.
“I feel like we’ve got good enough backs to fill right in if Gosha can’t play,” Karnes said. “We’ve got a handful of backs that can go out there and be very successful.”
Paris finished in fourth place in the Little Illini Conference. Its losses this season are to Red Hill, Newton and Marshall. Brody Spencer has thrown for 1,200 yards and rushed for 500 more. He has 22 touchdowns on the season.
“He’s had a tremendous season, and he won a quarterback battle after the kid we lost from last year graduated,” Clodfelder said. “In the summer, I could sense that Brody was starting to separate himself and take it away. He is completing about 68 percent of his passes. He’s running our read game, and he’s been a steady and fun quarterback to coach.”
Herrin hasn’t played in a close game since its Week 3 loss to Du Quoin, 21-17. Since then, the Tigers have won every game by at least 30 points.
“It boils down to our defense, and Paris is pretty tough to defend,” Karnes said. “When he was at Benton, they did some of the same things. We’ve played really well defensively and gotten better in the last five or six weeks. But there is going to be some adversity at this time of year. We could get in some close games, and it’s about how they handle that, and they will have to grind it out.”
Angus Beabout leads the Paris rushing attack with more than 900 yards. The big question will be can Paris slow down Herrin’s potent running game.
“The thing about Herrin is that we’re very familiar with the fact that they typically have really big kids and physical backs,” Clodfelder said. “They are as big up front right now as I remember. They are not real dynamic, but they’re very physical and good at what they do.”