DEKALB — On paper, the sexy matchup is Nashville’s explosive offense against the stingy defense of Sterling Newman Central Catholic.

But when the Hornets and Comets meet for the Class 2A title at 1 p.m. today at Huskie Stadium, what happens when Newman Central Catholic possesses the ball might decide which team is celebrating at game’s end.

“I think that’s going to be the key to the game,” third-year Nashville coach Stephen Kozuszek said. “They are completely content with playing for third and short, and fourth and short. If we can limit them to 1 and 2-yard carries and force them into passing situations, or at least longer-yardage situations, that will be huge.”

The Comets run the wishbone, an offense that seems almost anachronistic, yet can be brutally effective. It can force a defense that’s used to firing off at the snap and flowing to the ball to play differently. It’s designed to pick up yardage in 3 and 4-yard chunks but can break a big play if circumstance permits.

Three and four-yard chunks lead to first downs, which lead to long drives, which might keep the Hornets’ offense that has averaged 45.2 points per game on the sidelines.

“Most people aren’t used to seeing it,” first-year Newman Central Catholic coach Brandon Kreczmer said of the wishbone. “Ten or 15 years ago, at these smaller schools, everyone was running double tights and wishbone stuff.

“This late in the season, the nice thing about ground-based teams is that the weather doesn’t matter. You can still execute, and there’s a lot less factors you have to worry about. In week 14, teams are beat up, and they aren’t used to that physical pounding on every play.”

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The good news for Nashville, at least from how it’s played in the postseason, is that its defense might be equipped to keep the Comets from hogging the ball. It hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in the postseason, in large part because it’s large at the point of attack.

In tackles Neil Kabat and Joe Wacker, the Hornets have 610 pounds of beef for opponents to dislodge. In ends Rhyker Rees and Gavin Baldwin, they have two ends that can disrupt any play. And in linebacker Justin Aulds, it has a tackling machine who enters this game with 140 stops.

“Neil and Joe are just tough to move inside, and we feel like we can combat anything,” Kozuszek said. “Gavin and Rhyker have good size but are really athletic. Our strength is in the front seven. Our defensive front will have to keep them from getting to the second level.”

The Hornets have been balanced offensively, averaging more than 400 yards per game with a slight lean towards the passing game. In Saturday’s 35-21 win at Decatur St. Teresa, it was the passing game that dominated with Chad Malawy hitting 18 of 28 passes for 283 yards and two scores.

While Newman Central Catholic is aiming for its sixth state title in 30 years, Nashville is shooting for its first. The Washington County school has already pulled off a rare double, putting its boys basketball and football teams in state championship games in the same calendar year.

The Hornets can make history on another front, too. If they win, they would become the first Southern Illinois school to take home a state title since Harrisburg in 2000.

“It’s amazing to think it’s been that long,” Kozuszek said. “It’s important for us to represent the south as well as we can.”

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