Shippensburg, Solanco meet in football playoffs
Shippensburg is keeping one word in mind as it prepares for the playoffs: Discipline.
"We have to be disciplined with the football," Greyhound coach Eric Foust said.
Ship linebacker Dylan Rotz said, "We all have to stick to our assignments and stay disciplined."
"The biggest key is discipline," Hound receiver Wade Mills said.
All week long, the Greyhounds have been focused on maintaining their discipline ahead of Friday night's District 3 Class AAA first-round game against Solanco.
The Golden Mules (9-1) enter the game as the No. 4 seed, while the Hounds (7-3), ranked No. 13, are the underdogs. But really, none of that matters now, as the teams play in a win-or-go-home contest under the lights.
"I don't look at the upperdog or the underdog at all," Solanco coach Anthony Cox said. "We go in and prepare like we do for every week. We are constantly going at it at full speed and just trying to preparing our kids the best I possibly can."
While the Mules may be favored, there is one thing working in Shippensburg's favor: Solanco isn't exactly balanced offensively.
The Golden Mules run a triple-option offense and rely heavily on the run game. Solanco quarterback Noah McCardell has completed just 23 passes on a mere 55 attempts this entire season. Meanwhile, the Mules have gained more than 3,500 yards as a team on the ground.
"We're a running team, but we try to box people up and open up the passing lanes," Cox said. "We try to spread it out throughout our running backs in terms of who gets the ball. We're trying to overload the defense and try to make them make mistakes."
Fullback Robbie Hassel has been the biggest workhorse for the Mules. He has piled up 1,285 on just shy of 200 carries. McCardell has 796 rushing yards, Prosper Eguzouwa has 693, and Darren Whearry has contributed 596.
"They run the triple option very well," Foust said. "Their quarterback is a nice athlete, and they've got three real nice backs. Their offensive line is aggressive and quick off the ball. But if they're throwing, they're throwing deep. They try to lull you to sleep and then just throw it up."
Rotz said, "Everyone has their assignments, and everyone needs to stick to their assignments. Especially in the read option and triple-read option. We all have to tackle well."
If the defense holds down the Mules, Ship's offense should be able to back it up. While Solanco has been explosive on the ground, the Greyhounds have become unstoppable through the air.
Quarterback Tyler Gustafson has thrown for 1,762 yards with his top two targets coming in the form of Cody Gustafson (49 catches, 748 yards) and Wade Mills (45 catches, 663 yards).
"We can be really explosive," Mills said. "We have two receivers that are well over 6-foot, and we have a really good quarterback to back us up. When he's in trouble, all he needs to do is throw the ball up and he trusts us to go after it."
What's more, if Shippensburg does need to rely on the run game, it can do so. It is uncertain whether Zion Ware, the team's leading rusher with 775 yards, will play, but the Greyhounds will see the return of Cole Friese, who missed most of the regular season finale with a hip flexor.
If worse comes to worst, there are other options.
"We feel really good about our run game regardless," Mills said. "Zion obviously is a great player, but Cameron Tinner is showing some pretty impressive moves. In practice, he actually hurdled a kid, and it was pretty much the most impressive thing I've ever seen a kid do. Also, Nathaniel Sheffield runs really hard, so I think our running game will be just as good, if not better."
That is, if the Hounds stay disciplined, after all.
GREYHOUNDS-GOLDEN MULES AT A GLANCE
Game data: PIAA Class AAA first-round football game ... Shippensburg Greyhounds at Solanco ... 7 p.m., Friday
Media: Follow @liziarbogast, @LindseySquints and @ShawnCMichael on Twitter for live updates ... Webcast available at sesportsnet.com.
Teams: Shippensburg is the 13th seed with a 7-3 record after defeating Greencastle-Antrim in the final game of the regular season ... Solanco (9-1) lost its last regular season game to Manheim Central, but hung on for the fourth seed in the tournament.
At stake: The winner will advance to take on the winner of No. 5 Lampeter-Strasburg (8-2) vs. No. 12 Palmyra (7-3).
P.O. pick: Solanco by 10.