My Take: On Harlem against East for the NIC-10 championship

High School Football

ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF) — Friday night Harlem and  East will battle for the NIC-10 championship in football at Swanson Stadium. Ironically these are the same two schools that played in the NIC-10 basketball championship game last month.

These two teams are opposites on offense. The E-Rabs come out running the football, and they keep running the ball regardless of what the score is or what the situation is. They’ve never been better equipped to run the ball under Gary Griffin than they are now. They have the best running back in the conference in C.J. Berry, and they have four other running backs who could slot into the top-ten backs in the conference.

The depth and athleticism on the E-Rabs is outstanding both on offense and defense. Shamar Holt in the defensive secondary is a big-time player.

The Huskies will come out throwing the football. They have a run component to their offense and often times that’s the guy throwing the football too quarterback James Cooper Jr. He’s run for some big touchdowns this season, but he’ll be throwing the ball most of the time. When you’ve got an arm like his and a great trio of receivers to throw to they’d be crazy not to throw the football.

Harlem coach Bob Moynihan doesn’t overthink it. He knows what he has in those skilled kids and he lets them air-it-out.

The Huskies on defense have looked really good at times this season, like from the second quarter on against Hononegah two weeks ago. At other times they’ve looked vulnerable as they did last week against Prairie Ridge when they surrendered 42 points.

Here are my keys for the E-Rabs Friday night: (I know what coach Griff would say ‘blocking and tackling’ but I’ll go beyond that.)

1. The E-Rabs have to be able to run the football, move the chains, and keep the ball away from Cooper and company or it’ll be a long night.

2. Harlem’s defense will stack up to stop the run, so East will need to use some misdirection to try to keep Harlem’s defense on its toes. A few flare passes to the running backs in the flats might come in handy too. Consider them long handoffs to those explosive backs.

3. East’s defense must get pressure on Cooper and not allow the deep balls and big plays. Force the Huskies into long drives and hope they make some mistakes.

4. Don’t fall too far behind. Since East doesn’t throw the football the E-Rabs are likely to have a hard time rallying from a significant deficit.

Here are my keys for the Huskies Friday:

1. Stop the run. It’s pretty simple. If the Huskies do that it’s hard to envision a way the E-Rabs can win the game.

2. Limit mistakes and turnovers on offense. Mistakes will allow East to hang in there.

3. Cover well on special teams. Don’t let the E-Rabs athletes break long returns.

I’ve got the Huskies winning this game. They’re more battle-tested with the tougher schedule they’ve played, but again, East’s athletes are for real. If the Huskies don’t show up ready to play Friday night the E-Rabs will hit them in the mouth.

Regardless of what happens I’m happy for both of these schools to be in this position to play for a NIC-10 championship. Both have had long championship droughts in this sport, and I’ll be happy for whichever team wins the game.

Kickoff Friday at Swanson Stadium will be at 7 p.m.

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