HERRIN -- The Herrin Tigers football team will attempt to scale Mount Everest when they travel to the Springfield area Saturday evening to take on six-time state champion Rochester in a 4 p.m. start.
The Rockets are a football factory, cranking out wins by the bushel load under head coach Derek Leonard. This year's squad is no different. Rochester is a perfect 11-0.
While not saying that this year's bunch is his most talented one, Leonard did say this week that the current Rockets have "played to our ceiling better than any other team that I have had."
The straw that stirs the drink for Rochester is quarterback Nik Baker. Last weekend against Belleville Althoff, a 41-23 win, the senior completed 17-of-23 passes for 335 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. Jayden Reed is Baker's favorite target. He caught five passes for 124 yards against the Crusaders, including a touchdown.
Baker also rushed for 58 yards on 23 carries and scored four touchdowns on the ground.
His one interception -- the only blemish on an otherwise great day -- was his first miscue this entire season in 312 attempts.
In fact, according to Leonard, it was the first turnover period (fumbles included) this season for the Rockets when using first-team players.
Leonard said he expects a physical confrontation with the Tigers.
"Herrin is big and physical up front and they will try to run the ball and keep it away from our offense," Leonard said. "They are a great team and are well coached. I expect a tough game."
Top rusher for the Tigers is senior halfback Jase Gosha (1,600 yards and 34 touchdowns). He will be complemented by senior fullback Kyle Matuszczak and junior halfbacks Jackson Yates and Tate Johnson. The quartet combined for over 400 yards in last Saturday's 38-13 home win over Tolono Unity.
Tigers head coach Jason Karnes said controlling the line of scrimmage will be the key.
"We're going to need four or five long drives on offense and we're going to have to play our best game defensively," he said. "Defensively, we've gotten better each week. Coaches (Dwayne) Summers and (Rod) Sherrill have worked hard to give Rochester some different looks from our defense. The key is to always be moving."
Karnes praised his opponent.
"Rochester is a great 4A program and have been for the last several years," he said. "Still, I'm excited about this opportunity for our program. To be the best, you have to beat the best."
The two teams have met once before -- in the semifinal round of the playoffs in 2014 in Herrin. The Rockets won that game and went on to win state.