Familiar test for HCHS

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Jim Franz/Beloit Daily News The Indians will try to the the football in the hands of WR Braden Sayles on Saturday.

ROCKTON - Stop me if you've heard this one before.

The Hononegah Indians football team is attempting to advance to the third round of the IHSA Class 7A playoffs for the first time since 1996.

To do so, the Indians must defeat an incredibly talented team from the Chicago suburbs.

It's Batavia this year who will play the role of heavy favorite as the Indians attempt to break new ground in the playoffs.

The seventh-seeded Bulldogs enter Saturday's 1 p.m. contest with a mark of 8-2, same as Hononegah's.

How each team got there differs greatly. The Bulldogs play in the ultra-competitive DuKane Conference. If that weren't enough, they scheduled their season opener against an elite East St. Louis team that defeated them 31-17.

The only other loss came at the hands of St. Charles East in a 30-29 thriller. The Bulldogs also have a rich recent history to draw upon: They won the state title in 2017 and went 12-1 last year before falling to the eventual state champion in the state semifinals.

Hononegah coach Brian Zimmerman is suitably impressed, but believes his team has a chance to compete.

"We've been telling the kids all week to play for themselves but also to play for and believe in each other," Zimmerman said. "We understand we are the underdog in this scenario, but if we can get off to a fast start and avoid turnovers, we have the ability to give them a real test."

The strength of the Bulldogs comes along its offensive front.

"The first thing you notice is how big they are on the offensive line," Zimmerman said. "They range from 6-foot-5 to 6-7 and from about 250 pounds to 290. So that's intimidating before they even snap the ball. They like to run the ball, and I'm sure that's what they will try to establish early against us."

While the size of the line is eye-catching, the size of Batavia's running back is too. For a different reason.

"Their back (Artavion Taylor) only weights about 145 pounds, but he's exceptionally quick and can find the creases really well," Zimmerman said. "When you watch him run on film, it seems like he's on fast forward. Their quarterback is good and can run and throw as well, but our main goal is to stop the run."

The Indians have had mixed success throughout the season doing just that playing in a watered-down NIC-10 conference that has just one other team (Boylan) still alive in the playoffs after a week of play.

The Batavia defense is nothing to sneeze at, either.

"They run a 4-3 defense, but they bring five guys to rush almost all the time," Zimmerman said. "It's to the point where you've almost got to keep an extra blocker in to help. But the good news is if they are playing that way, the passing game should be there for us. But it's going to have to be a lot of quick stuff where we get it out early."

Hononegah's record-setting quarterback Payton Mather certainly is capable of that, and targets like Braden Sayles and Kendall Cross should get plenty of action as the Indians try to spring the upset.

"We know we're going to have to put points up on the board," Zimmerman said. "We just want to keep the score manageable and try to control the clock. We've got to force some turnovers, too. They have put the ball on the turf occasionally this season, and we are going to have to win the turnover battle to give ourselves the best chance to win." 

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