Playoff Preview Q&A with Head coach Tim Rogers

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Playoff Preview Q&A with Head coach Tim Rogers

After finishing the regular season with a 49-7 win over Greenville, the varsity football team comes into the first round of the playoffs with an overall record of 7-2. Both sides of the ball have been rolling as of late, with the Ranger defense giving up no more than 12 points in each week, excluding the two losses. 

For the first round of District play, the Rangers have been assigned the task of taking on the Mattawan Wildcats. The Wildcats are 5-4 coming to this week after narrowly squeaking into a playoff spot, winning their final four games of the season to secure a postseason berth. While the record may project an appearance of a lesser team, Mattawan is on a roll and playing its best football. Friday will be a challenging matchup, and I interviewed varsity football head coach Tim Rogers on the contest.

 

In 2017, the 12-1 FHC team that made a run to the State semifinals took on Mattawan in this same round. Obviously it’s been some time since, but what do you know about the program from that matchup that you can use for Friday?

“I think [Mattawan] had a bit of a better record in 2017 [than this year], but I can tell you they are a much better program now. They look entirely different on offense, and I think they have a better plan right now. They’re not a 5-4 team; they finished the season with four straight wins, they’re a good football team, and they’re going to be a tough opponent.”

Slot receiver and running back Noah Janssen is a huge part of Mattawan’s offense, as he’s one of the best players in the Kalamazoo area. Our secondary has done well this season so far, with most of the offensive production in the two losses coming on the ground. Janssen also gains a lot of yardage on the ground, as he went for some explosive runs against Lakeshore last week. What is the plan to eliminate Noah’s risk?

“I would bet that a lot of his success is coming through fly-sweep handoffs. They run him in the backfield quite a bit and hand the ball off to him. First and foremost, this week—just like we do every week on defense—we make sure that we are sound stopping the run. That’s always our emphasis. He is a good player, he runs hard, he’s physical, and we’ll have to work hard to get eleven men to the ball and keep him contained.”

Mattawan is coming off a string of four wins in a row, including a win over a playoff team in Portage Central and a near-miss team in Stevensville Lakeshore. What have you seen in this stretch of games that has contributed to Mattawan’s success, and how is the team going to end their hot streak?

“I think they just figured out who they are. Sometimes you start a season and you have a bunch of different plans on offense and defense, and over the course of time you start to figure out your kids a little bit more and you make some adjustments. They appear to me to be a team that kind of started off doing things a little differently than they are right now, and they’ve now grown accustomed to what they are doing. They’ve gotten better at it, and they’re executing at a higher level.” 

Last week, the Wildcats had 115 penalty yards on 9 penalties. This FHC team has been, for the most part, very disciplined throughout the season. How are you going to use this to your advantage?

“That’s our emphasis week in and week out. We talk about turnovers and being the most disciplined team each week, and I don’t expect that to change this week. [The players] know that it’s even more important nowadays when we’re going into playoffs, and we have to be the more disciplined team. I’ll expect us to take care of the ball like we try to do every week and to be a more disciplined team than Mattawan.”

Mattawan’s Jalen Jones is a two-dimensional quarterback, similar to [FHC quarterback] Jimmy. We have also faced many dual-threat guys throughout this year. How does the familiarity with this playstyle help the defense?

“Not to mention, we practice against it every day because we practice against our own quarterbacks. You just have to understand the quarterback is like an extra running back in the backfield, and if you don’t stop the run first and try to worry about the passing game, you’re going to get in a lot of trouble. No different this week, we’re going to have to worry about the run game first, and then we’ll worry about the passing game second.”

The Wildcats had a pretty potent run defense last week against Lakeshore, only allowing 3 net rushing yards in the first half. As the run has been a key component of the FHC offense all year, what are you guys going to work on throughout this week to further balance that side of the ball?

“Stevensville Lakeshore is a pass-first offense too, so that helped them out a little bit. We’re a little more committed to the run game than Stevensville Lakeshore is, and they’re going to be tough. They have some big guys up front; we’re going to have to do some things where we read the end man on the line of scrimmage and getting the ball in space. I think our advantage will be to get the ball in space. Sometimes little bubble screens, fast screens, and those things, to me, are an extended handoff or stretch play. We’re going to have to do things like that because playing in the box is going to be tough, they’re pretty physical in there.”

How important is it to host a playoff game?

“It’s huge. You work all year to get a home game in the playoffs, I think it’s a big deal with your fans, you don’t have to face travel time, and you have the familiarity of being at home. I think that’s really, really important, and I’m so glad that we finished 7-2, enabling us to host the first game.”

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