Lavaca County rivals buoyed by running backs
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Sacred Heart vs. St. Paul
TAPPS DIVISION III SEMIFINAL
• WHERE: 7 p.m. Friday at Giddings' Buffalo Stadium
• LAST MEETING: 28-21, Sacred Heart
• RADIO: KYKM, 92.5 FM
Sacred Heart and St. Paul have met on the gridiron three times already in the past two seasons. Friday night they'll meet for a fourth time as the rival schools battle for a spot in the TAPPS Division III state championship game at Buffalo Stadium in Giddings.
"This is it. Win or go home," said St. Paul senior tight end and linebacker Dylan Barton. "We're going to come out and do it this time."
Having played each other so many times, including last year's state championship game, both the Cardinals (8-3) and Indians (9-3) are familiar with one another. They know what the other side likes to do on offense and defense. Most importantly, both sides know what will be the key to victory.
"They're probably thinking they have stop our No. 21 and we have to stop their No.3," St. Paul coach Jake Wachsmuth said about two of the players who will have a big impact.
Both teams boast running backs that run with a physical style that is much larger than they are. For St. Paul, its senior Adam Hollenabach and for Sacred Heart it's junior Jonathan Vanek.
Both the Indians and Cardinals base their offenses around the rushing attack with Hollenbach and Vanek each leading their team in rushing. Vanek is in his first season as the primary running back for Sacred Heart and he's only gotten better as the season progressed.
"I think we've become more physical and can run the ball better," Sacred Heart head coach Pat Henke said. "We've always been a running football team and that's what we still want to do."
Vanek replaced Sterling Hrncir, who helped lead the Indians to a state title in 2011. The junior said he tried to replicate his running style and has a done a good job of it.
"I wanted to take after the way he runs the ball. He runs hard and physical," Vanek said. "That's what I've been doing."
For an indicator of how much Vanek and Hollenbach mean to their team one can look to the first meeting between the private schools earlier this season, in which Sacred Heart won 28-21.
In that game two weeks ago, Hollenbach scored twice and ran for 115 yards on 18 carries, while Vanek ran the ball 26 times for 172 yards and scored one passing touchdown. Despite finding himself in the end zone twice, Hollenbach said there was plenty of things he could've done better.
"I didn't play my best," Hollenbach said. "I could've run harder, held onto the football and made better tackles."
Vanek, on the other hand, said that seven-point victory saw him run the hardest he's had all season.
"I ran really physical, really hard in that game," Vanek said. "Because it was a really close game and it was a rivalry game."
Beyond their size and importance to their team, Vanek and Hollenbach don't have much else in common. Hollenbach described himself as a balanced running back that has the ability to make defenders miss or run right through him.
"I would say I'm more like the quick on his feet, juking, not really bowling people over as much," Vanek said about his running style. "I've got quick feet and speed."
While much of the attention will be placed upon the two running backs, the game is about a whole lot more.
"They're both good running backs and I'm sure both teams are glad to have them," Henke said. "They're just two good running backs squaring off, but it's not about them. It's about St. Paul and Sacred Heart."
"With both teams there are other players and if you get too wrapped up in them (Vanek and Hollenbach), you can get beat," Wachsmuth said. "They're both talented and have had great seasons. But, they'd both tell you it's because of their teammates around them."
It's an interesting situation for both Sacred Heart and St. Paul. Last year, St. Paul beat out Sacred Heart for the district championship, but it was the Indians who won the state championship over St. Paul. This year the roles are reversed with Sacred Heart having beaten out the Cardinals for the district title.
Whether or not the 2012 season will be a mirror image of the 2011 one remains to be seen. But, like both Henke and Wachsmuth said, Friday night in Giddings is going to be exciting.
"It's a big rivalry and the winner gets to play for a state championship," Wachsmuth said. "If you can't get motivated by those two things then you probably don't need to show up Friday night."