By Paul Hines
MT. VERNON —
The Rams secondary has been under pressure the past two weeks.
Saturday should be another busy day for the group when Mt. Vernon travels to Mattoon for its opening round 5A playoff game.
The Rams finished the regular season with a pair of victories against Centralia and Mt. Carmel. The two teams combined for 64 pass attempts against the Rams defense. Mt. Vernon coach Jared Shaner said experience against those pass-heavy teams and other earlier in the season could aid his team this weekend.
“It's not always nice at the time, but you play Rochester who is a spread team and does it just about as good as anybody in the state,” Shaner said. “Two we had Mascoutah who was a spread team and got the ball out in space to good athletes.
“Mt. Carmel did some last week as well.”
Last week, Mattoon quarterback hurled the ball around the field for 514 yards in a victory against Jerseyville.
Mt. Vernon's secondary took a hit several weeks ago when Braden Fitzjerrells suffered a back injury. He was recently cleared to resume practice work but will remain out of action for Saturday's matchup.
“He's out again this week so we'll kind of go with the same lineup we have been for a while now,” Shaner said.
Mt. Vernon used Demontez Miller-Gray in his place, and Jailon Rush has emerged recently to give Miller-Gray extra rest for his running back duties. Rush has a pair of interceptions in his two appearances.
“A couple weeks ago we put him at corner full time, and I hope he continues this,” Shaner said. “In two varsity starts, he has two interceptions. (He's) definitely doing some good things. He's a very good athlete back there and really just giving us that extra depth that we were looking for.”
Despite the volume of attempts by opposing quarterbacks over the past two weeks, the Rams defense has been strong with Centralia and Mt. Carmel gaining a total of about 300 yards. The Orphans and Golden Aces quarterbacks completed 44 percent of their attempts over the two games.
With the playoff game on Saturday, the Rams gain an additional preparation day prior to facing Mattoon.
“The fact that we have an extra day this week our Monday and Tuesday were, I guess, slightly different than what they typically are,” Shaner said. “We've got that one extra day so (we) get a little extra time out on the practice field and time to prepare.”
Saturday's game starts at 3 p.m. The victor faces the winner of the Peoria-Washington matchup.