EDWARDSVILLE – Edwardsville's football team is prepared for a big test when the Tigers head to the Chicago suburbs Friday night for their IHSA Class 8A first-round playoff game against Huntley of the Fox Valley Conference; kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
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The Red Raiders went 8-1 on the season to get the seventh seed in the playoffs, their only loss coming in Week 2 to Crystal Lake Prairie Ridge; Edwardsville enters the game at 6-3 having defeated Collinsville last week to gain an automatic playoff bid, the Tigers being awarded the No. 28 seed when the first-round pairings were announced last week by the IHSA. The Tigers spent the last week diligently preparing for the big game.
“They're a good team,” said Tiger coach Matt Martin. “They got to the quarterfinals last year (being eliminated by eventual 8A finalist Wilmette Loyola Academy 24-0) and we're going to have to play our best football against them; we're going to have to play hard and tackle well against them.”
The Red Raiders feature running back Melvin Aninagyel-Bonsu, who has ran for 1,027 yards this season; quarterback Eric Mooney, who has 927 yards rushing for the year and has also thrown for 1,897 yards on the season with 19 touchdowns. His favorite targets have been Ryan Antosen with 40 catches for 600 yards and seven TDs, Brian O'Mara with 28 catches for 589 yards and four TDs and Michael Boland with 24 catches for 452 yards and seven TDs.
“Their quarterback and running back are very fast and elusive,” Martin said of Aninagyel-Bonsu and Mooney. “We're going to have to gang-tackle them. (Mooney) throws well and has a lot of play-action they run; he and his receivers are on the same page, so it's going to be a challenge.”
Tiger QB Kendall Abdur-Rahman has been the key for the Tiger offense this season with 813 yards rushing on the year with 11 TDs, including a long run of 81 yards; Antonio Thigpen Jr. has contributed 72 carries for 445 yards and 11 TDs on the year with a long of 51 yards. Abdur-Rahman has thrown for 303 yards on the year with two touchdowns, connecting with Lavontas Hairston eight times for 113 yards and two touchdowns on the year.
On defense, the Red Raiders are led by Charlie Zornow, who has recorded 76 tackles on the year (45 solo) and Michael Talesky, who has 62 tackles on the year (43 solo); Justin Allen leads the team with 9.5 sacks while three others each have four sacks on the season. Edwardsville's leading tacklers are Chase Viehman with 46 tackles (26 solo) and Ryan Connelly with 36 tackles (16 solo); Joshua Anderson leads EHS in sacks with four with Viehman having three sacks on the season.
That the Tigers have bounced back from an 0-3 start to win six straight games and reach the postseason is a tribute to their resiliency, Martin feels.
“The kids have been resilient,” Martin said. “They haven't gotten down all year; they've kept working hard and kept getting better.
“It's going to be a challenge; the first round (of the playoffs) are never easy. It's going to be a dogfight and we'll be ready.”
The winner of Friday's game gets the winner between Palatine and South Elgin in the second round; that game will be played at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Streamwood.
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