BY CHAD DARE
Defense has been the name of the game for both Salt Fork Storm and Carrollton Hawks this season.
So when these two teams square off at 2 p.m. today in an IHSA Class 1A second-round playoff game at Carrollton High School, the scoreboard operator figures to have one of the easiest jobs.
That’s because these two teams have combined to allow just 118 points this season.
Carrollton (9-1) has posted six shutouts, while allowing just 56 points.
“Carrollton is very quick to the football and they gang tackle extremely well,’’ said Salt Fork coach Brian Plotner, the defensive coordinator for the Storm. “They are probably going to be the quickest team that we’ve faced this season.’’
And Plotner’s defensive crew has been just as dominate this season. The Storm (9-1) are allowing just 6.9 points a game, they have posted two shutouts and their defense has scored nine touchdowns.
“The one difference between us and them in this game, I believe is their big-play potential,’’ said Plotner, noting that Carrollton’s offense is averaging more than 300 yards a game. “They have exceptional speed in their backfield and we’re going to need to contain their backs.
“Hopefully, we can create a few turnovers and take advantage of those opportunities.’’
Salt Fork is heading into today’s game without two more starters.
After losing junior Steven Meade midway through the season, the Storm lost both junior quarterback Taylor Kirby (collarbone) and senior Garron Fathauer (ribs) during their 27-6 win over Oblong in the first round.
“This is the 11th week of the season and injuries are a part of this game,’’ Plotner said. “We’re going to hope that other kids can step up into those positions, like Garron did earlier this year when Steven went down, and perform up to a high level.’’
Jacob Hughes, a junior transfer from Bismarck-Henning, came in for Kirby last week, completing 5-of-7 passes for 97 yards and a touchdown.
“Jacob is very capable quarterback,’’ said Plotner.
But with Hughes instead of Kirby, Salt Fork’s leading rusher, at quarterback, the offensive philosophy changes a little for the Storm.
“We have to utilize Jacob’s talents and he has a very good arm,’’ Plotner said. “Considering how good their defense has been against the run this year, I think we were going to need a passing game to loosen up their defense.’’
Cole Taylor, who had a season-high 116 yards in the win over Oblong, figures to lead the Salt Fork run game, while receiver Nick Hedges, with a team-high 4 touchdown receptions, will likely be the top target of Hughes.
Carrollton will counter with a three-back attack led by sophomore Luke Palan with 827 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns, but Plotner said the key to the Hawks attack is senior Jordan Harr.
“He pretty much does it all for them,’’ Plotner said. “He carries the ball (385 yards), he is their top receiver (23 receptions) and he is one of their best blockers.’’
And quarterback Jacob Smith has completed 57 percent of his passes for 934 yards.
“They throw a lot of screen passes,’’ Plotner said. “So, you can’t just focus on their running game.’’
And while the Storm faces a three-hour trip to Carrollton, Plotner sees this as reward.
“It’s been four years since we’ve had to hit the road in the playoffs,’’ Plotner said. “That’s something, when you make the playoffs, you strive to do every year.’’
Today’s game will kick off at 2 p.m. and it can be heard locally on WRHK-FM 94.9, along with the Bismarck-Henning contest against DuQuoin.