Rock Falls has faced plenty of run-first, grind-it-out, power offenses in the Big Northern Conference.
But this week, the Rockets defense has a different task, as it will try to slow the passing-oriented offense of North Boone.
The Vikings come into the game 2-4.
“Our DBs have to be ready for pass, because we know they’re a pass-first team,” Rockets senior Booker Cross said. “They’re a lot different from the last few teams we’ve faced which were very run-heavy.”
The passing attack is led by Chandler Alderman, who leads the league in passing with 833 yards and 11 touchdowns on 63-for-122 passing. The left-handed quarterback in his first season as Vikings starter is able to hit deep routes in North Boone’s vertical attack.
“We’ve got to continue to be mindful in our secondary as far as what our responsibilities are,” Rock Falls interim coach Alex Leaf said. “We preach [to the] secondary [to play] pass first, assist on run, that’s why you have bodies up in front. So we’ve got to be able to recognize that. We should be able to see it from the get-go. A lot of times they go empty backfield or single running back and then they’ll have a trip side. So we know what they do. They’ll pass predominantly throughout the game. We have to understand their coverages. We have to understand where our drop zones are, and we have to make the open-field tackle.”
Alderman’s favorite target, and the favorite target of Alderman’s predecessor Logan Emmanuel, is Will Doetch, the senior receiver who has 45 catches for 632 yards and nine touchdowns this season.
It was Doetch with three receiving touchdowns from Alderman in North Boone’s 35-0 Week 1 win over Rockford Lutheran. In the finale of the spring season against Dixon, Doetch had 179 receiving yards as the Vikings pulled out a last-second win. A few weeks before that, in his last trip to Hinders Field, Doetch had six catches for 165 yards, including a 39-yard reception to set up a score and bubble screen he broke for a 57-yard touchdown.
“He’s a very good route runner,” Cross said. “He plays very hard, even our coach acknowledges that. He’s a very good player, so I have to be ready for everything he throws my way.”
Even in recent weeks, with the Rockets defense facing several run-first teams, the passing game has proven problematic. Against Byron in Week 6, the Tigers’ first two scores came through the air, with quarterback Braden Smith throwing touchdown passes of 73 and 38 yards.
“Surprisingly, it seems like one of our areas we’ve struggled with against some of these powerhouse, predominantly run teams, has been when they hit us with the pass,” Leaf said. “Byron got us a few times in the first half on first-play open-field passes, so we’ve got to be able to recognize that.”
Rock Falls’ offense will face a North Boone defense which has allowed 154 points this year, giving up 49 two weeks ago when the Vikings faced Byron and 50 in a Week 2 rematch with Dixon. But the Vikings also shut out Rockford Lutheran and held Rockford Christian to six points.
Since their own win over Rockford Christian, Rock Falls has scored just 23 points. In the loss to Byron, Cross broke an 80-yard touchdown run, but the Rockets offense was otherwise bottled up most of the way.
“We’ve really struggled the last couple of games with teams stacking the box on us and being able to develop our plays,” Leaf said. “A lot of times we have our Twins set, backside single-wide receiver, and seven-on-five is not necessarily a great ratio in terms of trying to establish the run. If they’re going off anything from the last couple of games, I’m sure they’re going to be stacking the box and daring us to pass, so we have to sustain our blocks.”
The Rock Falls offense does get a boost with Dillon Schueler back in the lineup. The senior running back was injured in the win over Rockford Christian and tried to make a go of it Week 2 against Stillman Valley but ultimately couldn’t.
Rock Falls also hopes to get an offensive boost from a slightly different look.
“We’ve added in a new formation, other than Texas, so we can have more people blocking in the box to give our quarterback more time to pass,” Cross said. “It’s more like an I-formation where we have two wide receivers out, and I think having more people to block will give us more time, so we can implement our pass game more.”