A look at No. 7 Pontiac's Class 4A playoff game with Herrin

Pontiac is back in the playoffs for the second straight year and the Indians get to host. This is a big deal considering the bracket setup. PTHS will be on the road in the second round regardless of who the opponent is should it win Saturday against Herrin. Kickoff for the Class 4A playoff game is 3 p.m.
    The key is winning Saturday. The Tigers will be making the long trip from their home near Marion in deep southern Illinois.
    “The nice thing about getting rewarded for the nice season we’ve had, we are spared that trip,” said PTHS head coach Alan Kuchefski. Pontiac, ranked seventh this week, will enter the contest with an 8-1 record and seeded fifth in the bracket. Herrin is a 7-2 and comes from the Southern Illinois River-to-River Conference, Ohio Division.
    This game is shaping up to be a battle of offenses. Running the ball will be the major goal for both sides. The Tigers have a number of backs in their full-house backfield alignment to utilize.
    Jackson Yates is the main weapon. He has rushed for more than 1,400 yards this season. He had 231 yards and two long touchdown runs last week. Jeff Rock is the fullback and he contributed 91 yards and a pair of TDs.
    The Tigers will also look to get the ball to Tate Johnson, who has been nursing an injury, a has regular quarterback Chance Karnes. Max Kampwerth filled in last week and threw for 188 yards, showing that the Tigers can go to the air if need be.
    “Their offense is a lot like us, but different formations,” Kuchefski said. “They don’t throw a lot, they want to live and die with the run.
    “They’ve got passing sets and can throw the ball, but they don’t want to. They want to come out in their double-tight, three-back set and pound you. They will keep pounding you until you can stop them.”
    That will be the key for the Indians because Herrin seems to be capable of putting together drives and striking quickly with big runs.
    The Tigers have scored fewer than 30 points three times this season — a 23-7 win over Waterloo in the opener and in both losses (31-25 to DuQuoin and 33-28 to West Frankfort). Otherwise, they have put up some big numbers. They have scored 49 points in wins over Carterville, Benton and Massac County.
    “We have to prove we can stop them from running between the tackles,” Kuchefski said. “If they can get 3-4 yards a crack, they’re not going to do anything different. We have to stop them and at the same time be prepared for the play-action pass. It sounds so simple but it’s really tough.
    “It’s going to be our front seven being stout and our defensive backs being ready for those passes.”
    Herrin has scored 335 points and allowed 192. The Tigers have seemed to be prone to yielding a lot of yardage. Some reports have pointed out that teams have been able to run for 300-plus yards in games this season.
    “You take everything with a grain of salt now,” Kuchefski said the numbers. “You can do your best to judge based on what see on film, but you can look at the yardage total and you’re not sure what they’re going up against. Maybe they’re going up against some quality offenses.
    “We will approach them like they are the best defense we have seen this year. Hopefully, we’ll be able to continue to do what it is we like to do and that’s run the ball.”
    Pontiac’s offense has been quite productive, putting up 334 points. The Indians, too, will look to run the ball. Austin Norman has rushed for 1,299 yards and 17 touchdowns this season. Gavin Bauknecht has 524 yards and 7 TDs.
    The difference might be in the arm of Ben Schuler, who has thrown for 843 yards and 16 touchdowns. Kuchefski feels his team’s passing game is more sophisticated than Herrin’s.
    But he also knows nothing will be successful if the line does not do its job. Giving Norman and Bauknecht room to run, and allowing Schuler time to throw, will be key to finding success and moving on to next week.
    “Watching them play defense, I feel pretty good about our chances,” Kuchefski said. “I feel we can put some points on them. Hopefully, we can sustain drives and not rely on big plays. We’ll see what they give us.”
    It’s playoff time and special teams play really comes to the forefront of winning. Herrin has a solid kicking game with Jake Baumgarte, who booted two field goals of more than 40 yards last week.
    “He’s a huge weapon. He kicks 40-something field goals and we haven’t seen anything like that this year,” Kuchefski said. “All of a sudden it becomes important for the defense to bend a little, but not too much because they’re going to get points if you let them too far into your territory.”
    Pontiac’s kicking threat hasn’t been asked to do a lot of kicking, but Carter Dawson has been automatic on conversion tries and has a good leg for longer kicks.
    The winner of this game will take on the winner of the Rochester-Breese (Central) game in Round 2.