By J. Pruitt / Daily News Editor
It’s the first week of the postseason on the schedule, but for the Hillsdale High School football team this is their seventh playoff game of the year.
The Hornets have been playing chicken with elimination ever since they opened the season 0-3 before running the table and securing the school’s eighth straight playoff appearance. Last week they used an economical offense and a stingy, but opportunistic defense to upset previously unbeaten Manchester 25-18 to get into the postseason.
And their reward?
A three-hour bus trip to Wyoming to play 9-0 Kelloggsville. But that didn’t come as much of a surprise.
“We looked at the region and figured it was us or Lumen Christi who would move,” head coach Marc Lemerand said.
But road trips are nothing new for Hillsdale. Road games in their league mean long trips to Stockbridge and Leslie. This year the trips also included Manchester and Dundee.
“Last year our JV team drove to Muskegon,” he said. “We just prepare ourselves to play.”
And Hillsdale won’t let the reputation of their opponent get in the way either. Fans may be impressed by the Rockets record, but Lemerand said his team focuses on themselves.
“We prepare ourselves this week,” he said. “The results will take care of themselves.”
Lemerand said this week the coaches are spending time breaking down film of the Hornets. The point being they need to see where the team needs to improve and not worry so much about their opponent. This approach helps take the added pressure of the “big game” off the players.
“We never talk about wins and losses,” he said. “The kids already know about that.”
That approach will be good for Hillsdale if it continues to practice the fundamentals.
“We need to play good solid football,” he said. “That means no turnovers and keeping our penalties down. We’ll be OK.”
Kelloggsville will surely score points, but Lemerand said if his team can win at the line, he likes his chances.
“They have skilled backs,” Lemerand said about Kelloggsville. “They have a quickness we haven’t seen yet.”
Lemerand said Kelloggsville likes to run the sweep, so the key will be for his defense to cut off the outside lanes. With such a ground-oriented attack, he knows his squad will face its toughest challenge so far.
“We are going to ask a lot of defensive line,” he said.
Lemerand said he finds the new foe refreshing.
In past playoffs, the Hornets seemed to play the same teams: Lumen Christi, Battle Creek Pennfield and Onsted.
“I think it’s a good thing we are playing someone we have never played in the districts or regionals,” he said.
While film can show a lot about a team, Lemerand said he understands there will be surprises.
“We don’t know the coaches and what they do, and they don’t know what we are going to do,” he said. “Everyone saves something for the playoffs.”
The Rockets completed their first 9-0 season in school history and won their first Ottawa-Kent Silver league title since 1997. They averaged 43 points a game in their eight on-field contests. They won one game by forfeit.
Kelloggsville has never won a playoff game. The previous two years they qualified with Week 9 wins, but fell the next week.
Kelloggsville’s opponents’ combined record is 36-36. Three foes qualified for the playoffs including Hopkins which is in the same district. Hillsdale’s opponents have a combined 47-34 record with four teams qualifying for the playoffs.
Hillsdale will once again be led by sophomore signal caller Travis Hodos. He is 3-0 since senior quarterback Mike Curby was lost to injury earlier this season. Last week, Hodos tossed three touchdown passes against the Flying Dutchmen. For the season, Hodos is 34-of-82 for 529 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions. He has also rushed for 307 yards and two scores.
The running game will welcome a healthy Aaron Blanchard. Blanchard leads the team with 480 yards on 80 carries and two scores.
Nick Reiniche is the team’s leading receiver with 17 catches. Drew Byers leads in yardage with 382 and is tied with Dan Vear with four scoring catches.
On defense, the Hornets are led by Brock Estel with 79 tackles, 14 for lost yardage and five sacks. Justin Reed, who had a key interception against Manchester, has 77 tackles, two sacks, and 9.5 tackles for loss. Sonny McCoy has 75 tackles and 10 passes broken up.
Devon Butler and Dan Vear each have two interceptions.