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Coal City set for trip to Johnsburg

Coalers have won nine straight games

COAL CITY – There shouldn't be any big surprises when the Coal City defense lines up Saturday afternoon against the Johnsburg offense. The two teams square off at 1 p.m. in the second round of the Class 4A playoffs.

Johnsburg, coached by Minooka graduate Sam Lesniak, primarily will employ a spread formation.

In the past, the Interstate Eight Conference in which Coal City resides was a run-dominated conference. Now, however, this will be the fifth straight week in which the Coalers will see a spread team.

"We've faced spread teams before," Coal City coach Dan Hutchings said. "That is nothing new to us. Our last four games – Manteno, Reed-Custer, Lisle and Wheaton Academy – were all against spread teams.

"Johnsburg is a little different than Wheaton Academy, though. They like to run it a little more, but they aren't afraid to throw it either. They like to keep it balanced."

The Skyhawks (7-3) have put up a lot of points this season, 283 to be exact, including 46 last week in a 46-0 first-round thumping of Chicago Agricultural Science at Gately Stadium. And they did it with their backup quarterback running the offense.

Johnsburg quarterback Alec Smith missed the Skyhawks’ first-round game with an ankle injury. Wide receiver Jonny Preston filled in for him. Lesniak said Smith would be re-evaluated this week, and he hopes to get him back for Saturday’s game.

"We went up to Gately to watch the game Saturday night," Hutchings said. "Their backup quarterback did a nice job. He's normally a wide receiver for them, so he's a good athlete.

"They have a lot of good athletes. They are quick on both offense and defense. They have had a good program for a while, and they play good competition."

Whether Smith is able to play or not, the Skyhawks will have to contend with a Coal City defense that has allowed only 56 points all season and has shut out six of its 10 opponents. That defense is headed by junior linebacker Austin Pullara, who averages 8.7 tackles a game. The Coalers also have intercepted 14 passes, five by senior Zack Sandeno and four by senior Ryan Wasielewski.

"Our kids fly to the ball," Hutchings said. "A lot of the credit goes to Coach [Francis] Loughran and the work he does with the defense."

When Coal City has the ball, its formula has been to run the ball and use the run to set up the play-action pass. It has worked well, as the Coalers have scored 235 points.

The running back tandem of senior Connor Skubic (97 carries, 625 yards, 4 TDs) and junior Daniel Jezik (137 carries, 688 yards, 6 TDs) has been effective, while junior quarterback Payton Hutchings has completed 59 of 120 passes for 883 yards and 11 touchdowns against five interceptions. His main receivers have been Asa Cooper (22 catches, 302 yards, 2 TDs), Gio Ferrara (16 catches, 235 yards, 2 TDs) and Pullara (14 catches, 239 yards, 3 TDs).

"We plan to do what we always do," Dan Hutchings said. "We will run the ball, use the play-action and try to get some big plays. When you have a high-powered offense like Johnsburg's on the other side, the best way to keep them from scoring is to not let them have the ball. We want to be disciplined and keep the penalties and turnovers to a minimum, which we have done all year.

"One good thing is that we are as healthy as we have been all year. We were banged-up earlier in the year, but we have gotten those guys back. When I walked by the training room, there was nobody in it, which is surprising for this time of the year."

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