Charlie Raich Field is about to play host to a playoff football game for the first time in 11 years on Saturday. It's going to be a raucous day in Roxana.
At 1 p.m. Saturday the Shells (8-2) welcome the Carterville Lions (10-0) in a second-round Class 4A playoff football contest. Carterville head coach Dennis Drust understands the brevity of what his team is up against.
“Homefield advantage is very, very important in regular season football now and especially in the playoffs,” Drust said. “It's going to be an environment our kids aren't used to. I know the Roxana days of old and coached there on a Wednesday night when Carbondale came to Roxana, so I know what the Charlie Raich teams were like. They rolled out the tradition of Roxana and this team looks like they bought into that same mold. They run their offense extremely well and run their offense fast and physical and I think that's what Roxana football was in the past.”
But Roxana head coach Pat Keith knows his Shells can't look past the talented Lions. They are undefeated and the No. 1 seed in the playoff quadrant for a reason. Roxana is the No. 5 seed in the quadrant.
“They are very good offensively and I think the quarterback (Blake Hicks) and fullback (Brennen Lentz) are their main focuses on offense,” Keith said. “They can run the ball and throw a little bit, too. It's definitely going to be a challenge for us defensively, but hopefully we've got the kids prepared this week with some things we're trying to do to stop it and we'll be ready to go Saturday.”
Hicks rushed for 245 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a 28-20 Week 1 playoff win for Carterville.
Roxana was impressive running the ball in its 47-21 shellacking of Freeburg on the road last week, too. Seth Chester led the charge with 13 carries for 166 yards and two TDs, while Blake Vandiver had 19 carries for 155 yards and a score and fullback Logan Reardon hauled the ball 15 times for 97 yards and a TD. Reardon also logged a receiving TD.
“We're a run first team, but we do have a good passing attack with it,” Drust said. “Blake Hicks can really through the ball and he's really been a surprise for us this year. He had a good race with a sophomore through the summer and he just kind of took that extra step for us and got off to a great start Week 1 and he's continued that throughout the season, but the one thing I do like about Roxana is what they do on offense they do it very well. They're deceptive and they've got good speed and the line does a good job of running all their traps and their leads around the edge for them, so they're a very good offensive team that's going to create some problems for our defense.”
And while there may be no mystery in the offensive game plan by the Shells or the Lions, Keith admitted the way they do it is very different.
“They run the spread offense which we don't do,” Keith said. “They run the shotgun and do a lot of things that way, so it's a little different, but you can definitely tell they're like we are in the fact that they're focused on running the football instead of passing, but obviously they can do both with a quarterback and some good athletes out there. They're philosophy might be similar to ours in running the football.”
Defense is the key to victory in the game. Whoever can stop the other's attack and control the time of possession will likely own the upper hand.
“Time of possession is going to be important in this game and our offense has a knack for scoring quickly, but if Roxana can control the ball and grind out the clock then we're going to have limited possessions,” Drust said. “It's important for our defense to have a good showing and get the ball back for our offense so we can have some success.”
Like Drust, Keith believes playing at home should be an advantage for the Shells. After 11 years out of the playoffs Keith expects a frenzied group of fans to flock to Roxana in droves Saturday and the players will feed off of that.
“I think being at home is definitely a help to us,” Keith said. “They play half their games on turf so I think that might change their game plan on how they do things, but it's also nice because they'll have a long drive. The support from the community has been huge and I think there will be a large crowd there and hopefully that will get the kids fired up too. This year so far we haven't lost a game at home, so that's our goal to maintain that undefeated record at home. It's definitely a challenge for us, but I think the kids are ready to take part in it and try and get a win for us.”
Next up for the Shells or Lions will be the winner between Belleville Althoff (7-3) and Herrin (9-1). That game will take place at 7 p.m. Saturday at Lindenwood Belleville.