PANA — Haven’t we met before?
That’s a question that the Oakwood Comets and the Pana Panthers might ask the other on Saturday afternoon in the IHSA Class 2A Playoffs.
And the answer would be yes.
Just a year ago, as a matter of fact, as Pana defeated Oakwood 28-21 in a first-round playoff game.
“It’s the same team, same offense and same defense, but it’s new players, so it’s a little like a different team,’’ said Oakwood senior Jack Carey. “But as we prepare for them, it’s like when we prepare for Salt Fork, Westville, Georgetown or Bismarck. We know the offense they run and we know the defense they run before we’ve watched any film.’’
Oakwood coach Al Craig, admittedly believes the familiarity will be a good thing for his Comets heading into Saturday’s 1 p.m. kickoff.
“When we go down to Pana, we will know everything that we will need to know going into the game,’’ he said. “We will know the route that we will take down there. We will know where the locker room is and which sideline we will be on. We will know what the fields is like. All of that will help us a ton.
“The kids will know that we can go with these guys. There will not be that feeling out process that you often have in a playoff game. And when it has come to putting together a scouting report. You might not see it on film, but you remember it from last year. It definitely helps to have that knowledge, as well.’’
Obviously, neither team is exactly the same as they were a year ago.
Pana (9-1 overall) has a different quarterback, the Panthers top-two rushers both graduated as did their leading receiver.
Bryce Edmiston, who was Pana’s No. 2 receiver a year ago, is top target of senior quarterback Jonah Lauff, who has thrown for 1,796 yards and 22 touchdowns this season.
“They don’t change much,’’ Craig said. “The QB (Lauff) can still sling it like the kid (Jack Armstrong) did last year. The receivers are still fast, probably the fastest bunch that we’ve played all year. It will be a challenge for us, but we are looking forward to it.’’
So, what do the Comets (8-2) need to do to contain the Panthers high-powered passing attack that averages 43.9 points per game and they have been held under 35 just once this season?
“We have to apply pressure to their quarterback and force him to put the ball in the air before he wants to,’’ said Oakwood senior lineman Caide Borden, who added that the Comets played one of its best defensive games last week in the 20-0 shutout against Nokomis. “Our confidence level is to the roof, we were really on our games last week and we will need the same type of performance.’’
Borden admitted this week has been really special after they snapped a 31-year drought between playoff victories.
“Not many people from Oakwood have ever gotten to experience winning a playoff game,’’ he said. “I’m happy to be one of the kids that helped snap that streak.’’
But, the Oakwood coaching staff have been quick to reminded their players about their ultimate goal for this season.
“We let them enjoy it last weekend, but this week, our focus has been on this next game,’’ Craig said. “Our goal wasn’t just to win a playoff game this year. Our goal was to go all the way and that’s still our goal.’’
A big key for Oakwood success on Saturday will be its three-headed running attack, which combined for 252 yards in the win over Nokomis last week.
“Last week was the first time all year that we’ve had our entire team healthy and eligible,’’ Craig said. “We are going to need to be physical. I don’t believe anyone in their conference plays our style of football.
“Offensively, we need to put together long touchdown drives to keep their offense off the field. Our offense has a tendency to do that to people.’’
The winner of Saturday’s game advances to play the winner of the Nashville at Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin contest that kicks off at 2 p.m.