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Huskies look to stay in playoff spot hosting Creek

CADIZ — Different coaches take different approaches when it comes to how much their teams focus on the standings down the stretch in the playoff race.

Harrison Central’s Anthony Hayes has made it an open talking point for his Huskies, who enter their final regular-season home game in the 16th spot and final playoff spot in Division V, Region 17, after an impressive 27-17 win over Edison last week.

“We have followed it all year, we talk about it openly,” Hayes said. “It’s not like the old days when results got faxed back and forth, with the Internet kids are aware of what’s going on and I think we should talk about it. It’s not the end all, be all, the process is what we look at, but it’s one of our goals.

“We want to show the kids that doing the right things gives you an opportunity to reach your goals.”

The Huskies chances to reach that goal hinge on the final two games, as they host Indian Creek, which is a classification higher in Division IV, then have the annual VALES Trophy matchup with Buckeye Local, one of the teams chasing the Huskies in Region 17, in Week 10.

But, Hayes and Co. are squarely focused on winning Friday night and not worried about the playoffs or playing for a trophy next week.

“Our last two are big ones, but we know all too well how good of a program Indian Creek has, so we’re not looking anywhere past that,” Hayes said.

While the Redskins are not in playoff contention, veteran coach Andrew Connor views the game as an opportunity for his young club to keep improving and get a second win.

“We look at it as an opportunity for us to take another step in the right direction,” Connor said. “It is important for us for our well-being to continue to play hard, and to have the opportunity to play somebody who is fighting for the postseason, it is an opportunity for us to gauge where we are at and see how strong we can finish.”

The Huskies’ 27-17 win over Edison, which had won five of six coming in, snapped what had been a five-game skid for Harrison Central following a 2-0 start.

That win and the way the Huskies have kept battling despite the skid impressed Connor.

“I think it shows their resilience. I think coach Hayes has done a real good job of building his program a lot like him, resilient and they play hard,” Connor said. “That is typical of Harrison Central going all the way back to the Cadiz High School days. They are always going to give you their best when they are out on the football field and they have continued to do that.”

The Huskies have had to contend with a lot of injuries this season, and have seen some youthful players grow up in a hurry.

“We did lose another kid to an injury (against Edison), that has been a big issue for us. We’ve had six straight weeks where we’ve lost at least one starter to an injury. After a while those start adding up and taking a toll on you as a team,” Hayes said. “I’m proud of our young kids, they stepped up and gave us a tremendous effort. And, I’m proud of my coaching staff. They did as good of a job as any coaching staff could do of getting a bunch of young kids ready to play.

“We really have started to see the young guys grow up, albeit much faster than we would have liked it to have been. We wanted to kind of get those guys’ feet wet in junior varsity and teach them, but credit to those kids because when they have been thrust into action, they have given their absolute best.”

“I have been very impressed that they have been so beat up and injured and they just keep putting a very good product on the field,” Connor said. “That says a lot about their kids and their coaches that they are able to overcome things that may have cost other teams their season. They just put the next guy in and they go.”

Though Creek sits 1-6 on the season, Hayes knows Friday’s game will be a challenge.

“I expect nothing but their best. Coach Connor will have his team ready to go,” he said. “He is a 20-plus year veteran that as head coach of Indian Creek has done a tremendous job. I don’t think many things surprise him and he knows how to prepare a team to win.”

The Huskies are led by sophomore quarterback Hayden Cassidy, who is fourth in the Herald-Star/Daily Times coverage area with 974 passing yards and nine scoring tosses, while running for another 215 yards and three scores.

Nathan Bertolino is in the top five in rushing with 624 yards and five scores, while Cam McAfee (23 catches) and Jon Vermillion (19 catches) are top-five pass catchers in the area for a Harrison Central offense that averages 260.8 yards and 19.4 points.

“When you watch them on film, they do a good job of spreading you out on offense and their quarterback does a good job of throwing the ball to different receivers, but they can still run the ball when the they have you spread out,” Connor said. “They do a really good job of being balanced. When you go and break down their games, they are about a 50/50 team running and passing. Everybody talks about wanting to be 50/50, but they are 50/50.

“That puts a lot of strain on you defensively because you can’t just say we’re going to gameplan for the running game or the passing game. Most teams favor one or the other. Coach Hayes does a great job of that.”

Meanwhile, the Redskins are a more run-centered offense, as 1,178 of their 1,638 total yards this season have come on the ground.

Leading that charge are quarterback Eli Powell with 477 yards and five scores and tailback Jayden Irizarry with 344 yards and a score.

When Creek goes to the air, Powell has thrown for 452 yards and nine scores (five in the last two games), 269 yards and four TDs of which have gone to Sam Coleman, who is fifth in the area in receiving.

Defensively, Harrison Central allows 30.25 points and Indian Creek’s offense scores an average of 14.1 points.

The Creek defense allows an average of 29.3 points.

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