Preview of EPG's playoff game at Rockridge

    Certainly, the pairing of El Paso-Gridley and Rockridge did not come as a surprise to the fans of the Titans. These folks have gotten used to long trips in the first round of the playoffs.
    The thing to note, however, is that EPG is still playing, making the playoffs this year with a dramatic win at Eureka last week. The Titans will now head to the Quad Cities area to take on state-ranked Rockridge in a Class 2A first-round matchup.
    EPG is riding a three-game win streak, of which two have come on the road.
    “Kids and the community are excited to be back in the playoffs,” EPG head coach Stephen Rigsby said. “Chances looked pretty slim when we were 3-4 a few weeks ago.”
    Rockridge will come into the game sporting an 8-1 record and ranked fourth in 2A. Their lone loss was a one-point setback to Sterling Newman Catholic, the top-ranked team in 2A and considered the heavy favorite to win the state title.
    The Rockets are a prolific scoring team while somewhat stingy on defense, though they haven’t pitched a shutout this season.
    EPG will be challenged by an offense that has scored more than 300 points this season.
    “They are a spread to run team that is good enough to throw it if they have to,” Rigsby said of the Rockets. “Their quarterback and RB are all state caliber players — both run first. Similar challenge with the running quarterback that we saw last week. Supporting cast is a lot better, however.”
    According to Sam Graves, head coach for Rockridge, “We like to run but have much better throwing the ball this year with a quarterback who has a year of experience under his belt.”
    Graves, whose father guided Monmouth Yorkwood to an undefeated state title in 1983, relies on quarterback Riley Fetterer to run the show. He has rushed for 1,100 yards and thrown for 1,100 yards. Nathan Parchert is the running back of note, having gained 1,500 yards on the ground.
    “The offense has been very explosive,” Graves said.
    A trademark to that Yorkwood team led by Graves’ father was defense. The only points that gave up came on two kick returns — one was in the championship game. The Rockridge defense is more generous, but still strong.
    “Our defensive line is our key,” Graves said. “They have been great stopping the run and will have to be in the playoffs for us to move on.”
    Collin Schmidt is the main guy up front, he was an honorable mention all-stater last year.
    “They are a 4-3 team and play predominantly man coverage,” Rigsby said of the Rockets. “They definitely have the athletes to play man over the top and bring an extra guy in the box. That will be a challenge for us. They are probably the best tackling team we have seen all season.”
    The Titans are led by Ryne Faulk, who has rushed for 1,326 yards and 16 touchdowns. Quarterback Jarrin Landrus is 83 of 169 throwing for 1,141 yards and 13 TDs.
    “EPG will win the pre-game size matchup on us,” Graves said. “They are bigger than us. They have a very good down-hill running running back, so we will have to be great at tackling and rallying to the ball.
    “They also have a good mix of quickness and size at wide receiver and like to throw vertical and throw WR screens, so we need to be ready for that as well. We need to not give up big plays on defense.”
    Rigsby will be looking for his team find consistency in the running the ball.
    “(It) will come down to the guys up front for us,” Rigsby said. “Can we consistently move the ball on the ground and create manageable third down situations?
    “(We) need to move and possess the ball to keep their offense off the field and capitalize on all turnovers and chances inside the red zone. Very little room for error against a very good team.”
    Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. The winner will take on the winner of the Chicago Marshall-at-Knoxville game in the second round. If EPG and Marshall win, it will be another long road trip for the Titans.