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High school football: Clippers aim to ground Eagles

Tall task

Amboy senior defensive lineman Tanner Behrends chases down Orion's David Aguilera during the Clippers' 43-18 victory Saturday in Orion.
Amboy senior defensive lineman Tanner Behrends chases down Orion's David Aguilera during the Clippers' 43-18 victory Saturday in Orion.

Big Rivers rivalry aside, Amboy junior Damon Quest didn’t mind saying he’d like his Clippers to be like the Morrison Mustangs. Sort of.

The Clippers are boning up for a Class 2A quarterfinal against Mercer County on Saturday at the Harbor. In the opening round of the playoffs, the seventh-seeded Mustangs took the second-seeded Golden Eagles down to the wire in a 25-14 loss.

They did so by forcing Mercer County quarterback Tanner Matlick to throw his second and third picks of the season.

“Turnovers can rule the ballgame. They can swing the game,” Quest, a junior safety and split end said Wednesday evening.

Thanks to Matlick’s 1,478 yards passing and 19 touchdowns, the Eagles (11-0) have been perched atop the 2A rankings since Morrison fell from the No. 1 spot following a 13-7 loss to Newman in Week 2 of the regular season.

Saturday’s throwdown might not be a title bout. But for the Clippers (9-2), coming off convincing victories over North Shore Country Day (36-12) and Orion (43-18), it has the makings. 

“This is a big game,” Amboy senior inside linebacker Taylor Ikens understated. “Our teammates are talking about how there’s no room for letdowns. If we beat them … you just never know.”

Matlick checks in at 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, allowing him to easily survey the field. That is, unless he’s on his back. The Clippers’ front four of Jordan Ernst, Drew Fordham, Tanner Behrends and Emmitt Hicks didn’t exactly pin their ears back last week against Orion, because of the Chargers’ penchant for jet screens. This week, Amboy coach Gary “Tank” Jones says he’ll unleash the hounds.

“This week, we’ve gotta get pressure on the quarterback,” he said. “We can’t let him sit back there and give him a chance to pick us apart.”

“Hopefully we can force some mistakes,” said Amboy senior safety Austin Cover, who hopes he doesn’t have to spend too much time living up to his last name. “They’ve got some very good receivers, and the longer they’re able to run, the more chances they’ll have to make plays.”

Senior Payton Holmes and junior Tyson Nylon both have at least 20 receptions and 400 yards for the Eagles, Holmes with 27 grabs, 459 yards and nine TDs. Nylon’s caught 21 balls for 424 yards and six scores.

“Coach always says the best defensive backfield is a good pass rush,” Quest said.

While the Clippers have pored over film, Quest said they will be “ready for anything,” as versatile teams like Mercer County like to add a page or two to the playbook during the postseason.

Ikens said the Clippers have a few wrinkles of their own and have focused on an array of blitz packages in practice.

He’s not sure yet who will play alongside him, as Bailey Appleman is being evaluated every day after hurting his right ankle in a pile-on last Saturday.

“Do I think about it? Yes and no,” Ikens said. “I know we’ve got some good backups who can step in.”

Junior Kevin Skoff filled in nicely at linebacker Saturday, and senior Jackson Sorrells at fullback. While Appleman racked up 493 yards rushing, perhaps more significantly he helped pave the way for running backs Cooper Nelson (118 carries, 948 yards) and Spencer Johnson (121, 742).

In the Eagles’ backfield, three backs have at least 70 carries and 500 yards. Logan Snyder has 70 rushes for 573 yards and 14 TDs. Zach Nelson’s been the workhorse with 102 carries for 779. He’s also caught 11 passes.

“They’ve racked up a lot of points, and they can score at any point from any place on the field with their passing game,” Jones said. “We can’t afford to take any plays off or get caught not paying attention, or their quarterback will go over the top of us.

“I think our guys like the challenge. I do. I like the challenge of something different. They’re gonna throw the ball, it’s just that simple.”

What: Mercer County (11-0) at Amboy (9-2)

When: 1 p.m. Saturday

Where: The Harbor, Amboy

Radio: 101.7 FM

Twitter: Follow Christopher Heimerman (@CHeimerman_SVM) for live updates

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