A look at Saturday's Class 4A playoff game between Prairie Central and Murphysboro

If you like the run game in football, you will love Prairie Central’s Class 4A playoff game with host Murphysboro. Both teams will look to control the tempo and win the battle up front in a matchup of run-first clubs on Saturday.
    Murphysboro enters the game, which has a 3 p.m. kickoff time, sporting a 7-2 record after placing second in the Southern Illinois River-to-River Conference, Ohio Division. The Red Devils finished in a three-way tie with Herrin and West Frankfort.
    The Hawks are also 7-2 after taking third in the Illini Prairie Conference behind Monticello and Pontiac.
    This will be a game of similarities, even if the styles differ a bit. Murphy runs out of the wing-T and relies on a bevy of backs. The main weapons have been Jake Hoppenstahl, Dezmond Clark, Aiden McNitt and Zane Caraway. None have reached the 1,000-yard plateau, which illustrates the balance for a team that runs a lot.
    “We are a running team,” said Murphy head coach Gary Carter. We like to throw when it is not expected, not out of necessity.”
    Line play is the key to anyu successful running team. Murphysboro is no different.
    “Their offensive line is mobile and run their scheme well,” PC head coach Kirk Brandenburg said. “We need to cover our assignments — do our job (and) don’t get caught up in looking for the ball.”
    “Our offensive line must have a good game and execute our blocking schemes,” Carter pointed out. “Our backs must take care of the football and carry out all fakes with intensity.”
    Prairie Central runs the ball well, too. Like the Red Devils, the Hawks do not have a 1,000-yard rusher but have three with more than 700 and another closing in on 300.
    Matt Kerns is the primary back with 908 yards and 9 touchdowns on 147 carries. Wyatt Steidinger is the home-run threat with 860 yards and 17 touchdowns on 81 trips. He has a 10.6-yard per carry average.
    Quarterback Collier Palmore is also a threat with 729 yards and 6 TDs on 125 keepers. Palmore also has thrown for 434 yards on 18 of 48 passing. He has 7 touchdowns through the air.
    “We are a pressure defense, but Prairie Central’s option offense poses a challenge because it forces you to account for each threat,” Carter said. “Each position must do their job, we must maintain gap integrity and tackle well.
    “PC’s offensive line does a good job getting off the ball and their backs run hard, so we must get off of blocks and get to the ball.”
    The challenge for Prairie Central will be getting past the front seven and into the secondary, something that it has been able to do most of the season.
    “Their front seven are big and athletic,” Brandenburg said. “We need to control the ball as we have all season long. Our team knows that keeping the ball away is one of our best threats.”
    Typical keys to winning apply here: Control the line of scrimmage, don’t allow big plays, keep turnovers and penalties to a minimum and good special teams play.
    It should be an interesting battle of coaches since they have known each other for quite some time.
    The winner of this game will take on the winner of the Olney (Richland County)-at-Bishop McNamara contest in the second round. Should Prairie Central triumph, the Hawks will host regardless of who wins in Kankakee.