Playoff Preview: No. 8 Fisher at No. 1 Argenta-Oreana

FISHER — For the third consecutive postseason game, Fisher football will be tasked with stopping a pass-happy spread offensive attack.

The No. 8 seed Bunnies (8-2) will make the short 40-minute trip to Argenta-Oreana to square off with the No. 1 seed Bombers (10-0) at 1 p.m. Saturday in a Class 1A second-round playoff matchup.

It will be a headache for Bunnies coach Jake Palmer to game plan for a lethal, balanced offense that averaged 46 points per game and is coming off a 50-10 first-round drubbing of Cerro Gordo/Bement. But it’s stress Palmer will gladly take.

Last Friday, when Palmer scouted the Bombers in their playoff win prior to the Bunnies’ postseason matchup Saturday, he relayed what he saw to Fisher principal Jon Kelly.

“Jon was texting me last (Friday). He said, ‘How’s Argenta?’ And I said, ‘They’re solid. They’re really well-coached,’” Palmer said. “We were texting back and forth, and he said let’s take care of business tomorrow so we can get the joy of stressing about them this week. If we’re going to be stressed about how good they are, we’re going to have to be on top of our game coaching- and playing-wise, but it’s a stress I will embrace, and I hope our kids will embrace, too.”

Fisher faced Aquin in a 2017 playoff matchup, and the Bunnies are coming off a 48-15 win over Cumberland on Saturday for the program’s first playoff win since 2005.

Both opponents featured a spread offense, though Aquin’s underneath-to-intermediate offense is a more apt comparison to Argenta-Oreana’s. Cumberland preferred a vertical passing attack, but the Bombers attack opponents in a different way, though they still like to push the ball downfield.

Led by Rantoul alum Steve Kirk, one of the finalists for the Eagles’ head coaching position taken by Tom Hess, A-O can beat teams in multiple ways and attacks the middle of the field in the passing game and horizontally in the run game.

Fisher does not have just one player to key in on — when the Bunnies defeated Cumberland, they were focused on stopping the Pirates’ only true rushing threat, Wyatt Brant. But the Bombers deploy a three-headed rushing attack of RB Makhi Stanley (80 carries, 903 yards, 10 TD), QB Josh Williams (89 carries, 735 yards, 17 TD) and RB Skylar Petersen (105 carries, 683 yards, 13 TD).

The Bombers run their offense exclusively out of the shotgun. On their game tape, they did not run a single play under center, making their offense very similar to a college spread.

A-O likes to stretch the field horizontally with perimeters runs, and it also utilizes Makhi Stanley on inside zone running plays — one of the Bombers’ favorite calls. A-O also loves to fake it to Stanley and have Williams pull the ball and power it between the tackles, and the signal caller also has the speed and explosiveness to break free on the perimeter.

The Bombers, who sparingly will run a speed option play, also utilize some jet motion pre-snap, and they like to get it to WR Makail Stanley on a quick toss to the outside — think what the Kansas City Chiefs do by sending Tyreek Hill in motion with a quick forward pitch to him while he’s running across the quarterback’s face.

The Bombers are also deadly through the air, where Williams has completed 92-of-156 pass attempts for 1,466 yards, 21 TD and three interceptions throwing mainly to Makail Stanley (44 catches, 839 yards, 16 TD) and WR Garrett Gloede (14 catches, 298 yards, two TD).

Unlike Cumberland’s Gabe Hatfill, Williams is not a heave-it-deep quarterback with a rocket arm.

Instead, Williams gets the ball out quick on passes behind the line of scrimmage to get his playmakers in space and watch them go to work — bubble screens to Makail Stanley; halfback screens to Makhi Stanley; quick slants across the middle. Williams, an athletic 5-10, 190-pound scrambling threat, also likes to roll out on flood passing plays to either side, but he prefers rolling out to his right where he is more accurate throwing on the run.

Williams does not have the arm strength of Hatfill, but he is an accurate passer with good touch who can make downfield throws. He does not often throw vertically down the sidelines, instead opting for seam routes up the hash marks, and almost every time he does throw downfield, it comes off a play-action fake.

The Bombers’ favorite passing play is a run-pass option where Williams pulls the ball out following a fake to Makhi Stanley. The play action forces linebackers to come up and take one or two steps forward, freezing them so he can easily dump it off over their heads on quick slants across the middle or over-the-top on seam routes.

On defense, the Bombers are a physical group that is not easy to run on between the tackles and can rally to the ball. A-O stuffed Arcola’s inside run game in a 22-9 win over the No. 6 seed Purple Riders in Week 7.

Fisher, a triple-option offense led by RB Tyler Wilson (258 carries, 1,472 yards, 26 TD) and QB Will Delaney (69 carries, 408 yards, six TD, seven fumbles) that runs predominantly on the inside, may opt to get to the perimeter more and perhaps get Delaney in space on the edges. The junior was deadly against Cumberland, churning up yards following fake handoffs to Wilson.

With No. 4 Red Hill and No. 5 Madison both suffering losses in the first round, the winner of Fisher/A-O has an inside track at a semifinal berth. The Bunnies would host a quarterfinal game with a win over the Bombers. 

“Very fast, very well-coached and physical,” Palmer said of the Bombers. “They can make big plays. I just can’t say enough good things about them. When you’re playing a team that’s 10-0, you know they do a lot of things well. It’s going to be a challenge for our guys.”

Tale of the Tape

Fisher

Conference: Heart of Illinois Conference Small (8-2, 4-1; second place)

Points per game: 31.9 (319)

Points allowed per game: 21.2 (212)

Record vs. playoff teams: 2-2 (21-14 W @Tri-Valley; 56-0 L vs. GCMS; 46-14 L @LeRoy; 48-15 W vs. Cumberland)

Offensive style: Triple-option (85 percent run; 2,510 yards; 15 percent pass; 743 yards)

Players to Watch: QB/S Will Delaney (41-for-78, 743 yards, nine TD, three INT; 69 carries, 408 yards, six TD, seven FUM; 65 tackles, one INT, two FR), RB/LB Tyler Wilson (258 carries, 1,472 yards, 26 TD, two FUM; 41 tackles, one sack, three TFLs), OL/DL Tanner Diorio (66 tackles, two sacks, 13 TFLs),TE/ LB Dylan Baker (31 tackles, one sack), WR/LB Tyler Martin (12 catches, 390 yards, five TD; 53 tackles, two TFLs, one INT), WR Andrew Koslowski (eight catches, 114 yards, two TD)

Key matchup: Fisher LBs/DBs vs. Argenta-Oreana WRs/RBs. Imperative for Fisher’s back seven-eight to stay home on play-action fakes so they don’t get beat over the top but also rally quickly to the ball when Makhi Stanley does get the ball. Tyler Wilson is a small linebacker but is fast enough to track the back down. Will Delaney will have even more responsibility in this matchup from his safety position, as the Bombers like to attack the seams.

 

Argenta-Oreana

Conference: Little Okay Valley Northwest (10-0, 5-0; champions)

PPG: 46 (460)

PA: 12 (120)

Record vs. playoff teams: 4-0 (38-22 vs. Oakwood; 54-6 @Cerro Gordo/Bement; 22-9 vs. Arcola, 50-10 vs. Cerro Gordo/Bement)

Offensive style: Spread (64 percent run; 2,509 yards; 36 percent pass, 1,649 yards)

Players to Watch: QB Josh Williams (92-for-156, 1,466 yards, 21 TD, three INT; 89 carries, 735 yards, 17 TD), RB/DE Makhi Stanley (80 carries, 903 yards, 10 TD; six catches, 98 yards, one TD; 56 tackles, seven sacks, 10 TFLs, one INT, one FR), WR/LB Makail Stanley (44 catches, 839 yards, 16 TD; 59 tackles, three sacks, six TFLs), RB/LB Skylar Petersen (105 carries, 683 yards, 13 TD; 89 tackles, one sack, two TFLs), WR Garrett Gloede (14 catches, 298 yards, two TD), DB Colton Robinson (five INT, one FF, one FR), OL/DL Evan Rodriguez (42 tackles, one sack, two TFLs)

Key matchup: Argenta-Oreana OL vs. Fisher DL. It’s not just the run game blocking the Bunnies have to contend with. It’s also difficult to put pressure on Williams in the pocket with how quickly he gets the ball out. If the Bunnies’ pass rush can flow to the ball, neutralizing Williams’ threat to scramble when he breaks contain to the outside on rollouts, it takes a big load off their secondary.

Contact Zack Carpenter at zcarpenter@rantoulpress.com and on Twitter @ZackCarpenter11.

Categories (3):Prep Sports, Football, Sports

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