Harvard earned a reputation in the regular season for its adeptness at grinding out victories.
Four times, the Hornets played in games decided by one score. And all four times they won.
Harvard expected similar games in the Class 4A playoffs, but they never transpired. The No. 2-seeded Hornets manhandled St. Edward and Chicago King in their first two games to set up a quarterfinal game against No. 6 Rockford Lutheran at 1 p.m. Saturday at Rockford Guilford’s stadium.
Harvard (11-0) anticipates the meeting with Lutheran (10-1) to be what its first- and second-round matchups were not.
“It’s the quarterfinals of the playoffs, I’m expecting a grind-out game either way,” Hornets tight end and linebacker Tate Miller said. “They’re a very respectable team with a lot of talent. It’s going to be a good week.”
The two Big Northern Conference teams did not play in the regular season, but they had four common opponents – Byron, Genoa-Kingston, Oregon and Rock Falls – and the winning scores were similar in most games.
“We’ve gone into every game thinking it’s going to be a grind,” Hornets coach Tim Haak said. “We’ve had so many grind games during
the year, so many close games. That’s prepared us, too. Our kids have been in a lot of tough spots and had to perform very well.”
The 40-22 victory over St. Edward and 56-16 dismantling of Chicago King indicate that Harvard keeps finding ways to get better.
“We’ve been cranking up the intensity from where it was in the regular season,” guard-defensive end Dakota Trebes said. “We’ve really got focused and really prepared. All the hard work we put in in the offseason is really kicking in, too.”
Haak, in his 29th and final season as coach, likes to divide the season into thirds and build off each third.
“How much can we improve in these three games?” Haak said. “Then take those three and bring them into the next three. That’s why we see the play keep elevating. It’s a lot of different kids.”
Lutheran will present the most prolific running back, sophomore James Robinson, that the Hornets have seen. Robinson (6-foot, 195 pounds) has rushed for 2,360 yards and 41 touchdowns. Quarterback Kendall Lawson has completed 64.8 percent of his passes for 1,760 yards.
“Some of us watched them play last Saturday [a 27-22 win against Rochelle],” Miller said. “They like giving the ball to No. 25 [Robinson], so we have to play within the tackles and stop him first. We have to go right after them and hit them hard, like we try to do every week.”