GROVE - It's “bonus ball” time for the Grove Ridgerunners, who host Hilldale in a first-round Class 4A playoff game tonight.
“This time of year is what I like to call ‘bonus ball,” head coach Dennis Millican said. “I told the team ‘let's just go out and continue what were doing and get another win. We shouldn't just be happy where were at, we need to keep it going.'”
The third-ranked Ridgerunners (9-1) face a Hilldale team that has won four of its last five games.
“I believe we field a very similar team to what Grove had last year,” Hilldale head coach Don Hendrix said. “We are a young football team on the rise who is hungry for some success.”
Hilldale finished third in District 4A-4 thanks to a 56-29 rout of Idabel last Friday.
The Hornets' strength is the offense, said Hendrix, who was an assistant coach at Northeastern A&M from 1986-91 before returning to the high school ranks.
Last week against Idabel, they netted 496 yards of total offense, led by senior quarterback Zack Wallace.
Wallace (6-2, 205) is the vocal leader of the Hilldale swarm, Hendrix said. He had 294 yards in total offense last week and accounted for four Hilldale touchdowns - three rushing and one throwing.
Playing behind Wallace is a two-back tandem of Zac Cox and Michael Chang. Together, they combined for four rushing touchdowns and more than 200 yards of offense against the Warriors.
“I believe an edge we have over Grove is our offensive line,” Hendrix said. “I think we are bigger and stronger then they are up front.”
The Hornets averaged 39.2 points a game over the last five weeks and have outscored opponents 197-96.
“This team coming in is really good,” Millican said. “They have a big strong quarterback and two backs who run the ball extremely well. We'll have our work cut out.
“We'll have to play solid defense like we've done all season and execute like I know we can on offense.”
Linebacker R.J. Bartley has been the proverbial “force to contend with” on defense for Grove, logging 135 tackles and 5 sacks. He has forced three fumbles and has an interception.
Defensive linemen Blake Hansen and Isaiah Crawford have 97 and 71 tackles, respectively.
Senior quarterback Darius Hopper has rushed for 831 yards and 14 TDs while completing 104 of 195 passes for 1,363 yards and 13 TDs.
Dusty Gehrke has been the Ridgerunners' leading receiver with 36 catches for 529 yards and eight touchdowns.
“We just need to not get too hyped up and just stay in control,” Millican said. “We need to remain positive, and play four quarters of football, something we haven't really been doing lately.”