MENDOTA - Elgin St. Edward coach Mike Rolando talked to Aurora Christian coach Don Beebe about Mendota at a Suburban Christian Gold conference meeting.
Beebe's Eagle squad lost to Mendota 37-36 in overtime in Week 2, and beat St. Edward 23-18 in Week 7.
Beebe raved to Rolando about Mendota's speed, especially the speed of running back Kurtis Knapp. The former NFL receiver also told the Green Wave coach to be aware of Mendota's capable passing game.
Rolando is not as concerned about the speed the Green Wave will face when St. Edward meets Mendota at 1 p.m. Saturday in the first round of the IHSA Class 4A playoffs as he is about the Trojans' hard-running style.
Knapp leads the way with 963 yards and 23 touchdowns on 130 carries, but the Trojans also have Alex Caruso (54-386, 4 TD), Robert Watson (42-366, 3 TD) and Travis Martinson (33-274, 3 TD).
"Their running backs are not just fast, they are very powerful," Rolando said. "We faced some pretty fast runners throughout the year, but I don't think we faced any as powerful as their four guys running the ball. We're going to need to be able to tackle well, wrap up and swarm to the ball. These guys are going to be able to break tackles. When they do break tackles or slip tackles, we need reinforcements there to make plays."
The Green Wave will try to slow down a Mendota running attack that has racked up 2,288 yards this season with a big defensive line and a talented, experienced linebacking corps.
St. Edward features two four-year starters at linebacker with Shane Finnane (6-0, 240) in the middle and Nathan Gaige (5-11, 205) on the outside. Also on the outside is three-year starter Jordan Torres (6-2, 220).
Finnane leads the team with 91 tackles. He also has two sacks, one interception, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Gaige has 87 tackles, one sack, three interceptions, two fumble recoveries and a defensive touchdown.
Anchoring the defensive line is end Dan Duffy (6-0, 185) and tackle Evan Finnane (6-1, 260). Duffy has 52 tackles and 15 sacks, while Finnane has 32 tackles and three sacks.
"We play a 4-3 or a 5-3 depending on the situation," Rolando said. "We have three really good linebackers. We'll play man on the corners. We mix it up on defense. We try not to allow them to focus on any one spot, get comfortable of have any kind of consistency up front."
Mendota coach John McKenzie knows the Trojans must be more consistent with their blocking after their Week 9 performance against Peoria Richwoods in a 16-9 loss.
The Trojans had five plays of 13 yards or more, but were also stopped for no gain or a loss of yardage on 10 plays.
"I think the kids have to pay more special attention to detail," McKenzie said. "I think we were coming off the ball well against Richwoods. It's just the little things - hand position on the defender so you don't allow them to slide off, moving your feet to shield them from the hole. When you get to this point where you are playing good teams, it's the team that is able to maintain their discipline and maintain attention to detail that wins."
Line play also will be key on the other side of the ball as the Trojans try to slow down a very balanced Green Wave offense.
St. Edward has rushed for 2,132 yards while throwing for 1,275 yards.
The Green Wave running game features a "lighting and thunder combo," according to McKenzie.
Senior David Hoebbel is the lightning, preferring to run to the outside as he racked up 753 yards and nine touchdowns on 113 carries. He also is a talented receiver out of the backfield, catching 13 passes for 194 yards and two scores.
Torres is the thunder, taking the ball up the middle for 777 yards on 85 carries for a 9.1 yard-per-carry average. He has scored 12 rushing touchdowns.
The tandem runs behind an offensive line that averages 242 pounds.
"I don't think they do anything special running the ball. I think they are a very solid fundamental team that runs behind a pretty good-sized line," McKenzie said. "The biggest thing is we just have to play solid defense. Our kids up front can match up with theirs. We just have to make sure we create some havoc on the line of scrimmage. We have to be quick off the ball and get where we need to go."
The Trojans also has to contend with a solid passing game that features a pair of big receivers in senior Zack Von Ahnen (6-7, 230) and junior Sam Pozezinski (6-3, 180).
Von Ahnen has caught 33 passes for 487 yards and four touchdowns, and Pozezinski has grabbed 14 passes for 397 yards and six touchdowns.
Junior quarterback Ben Lehman has competed 72-of-167 passes (43.1 percent) for 1,233 yards and 14 touchdowns with nine interceptions.
McKenzie said he "feels pretty good" about Mendota's passing defense, but the Trojans may make some adjustments to contend with the Green Wave's size.
Cornerback Justin Delhotal will likely stay put, but safety Vince Bruno may move to cornerback and linebacker Travis Martinson may see time in the secondary.
"We have a number of options we can look at besides the fact that we can also change the design of our defense possibly to try to cause some problems," McKenzie said.
Kevin Chlum can be reached at 223-3200, ext. 138, or at email@example.com.