By Ryan Costello, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
POND CREEK, Okla. —
A week after their worst outing of the season, the Pond Creek-Hunter Panthers have to bounce back to keep that season alive.
The fourth-ranked Panthers (9-1), winners of their first nine games by an average of just over 40 points, lost 40-6 to Laverne in the final week of the regular season in a game that was hoped to be a reversal of PC-Hunter’s recent history against the Tigers, most notably a 50-19 defeat in the 2012 Class B State Championship.
“I think our guys can see the big picture,” said PC-Hunter coach David Kerr. “Yeah, we were disappointed in the loss, but we still know our ultimate goal obviously is the state championship and being in another game and seeing Laverne possibly in four weeks.”
At 7:30 p.m. today, PC-Hunter hosts Central Marlow (8-2) with a chance to get one step closer to another state final appearance, perhaps round four against Laverne.
Central’s 2013 edition looks much like PC-Hunter’s 2012 runner-up offense, with most plays running through tailback Kevin Harris. The 5-foot-10, 175-pound senior enters the opening round with team highs in rushing (1,646 yards on 128 carries for a 12.86 per-carry average), touchdowns (37), catches (25) and receiving yards (470), a reliance similar to what the Panthers had in do-it-all running back Brady Krittenbrink last season.
PC-Hunter hopes stopping Harris will be as much a death knell to the Bronchos’ chances as it was to the Panthers’ in 2012.
“That’s obvious,” Kerr said. “but it’s a lot easier said than done.”
The Bronchos’ game plan is designed around preventing teams from completely keying on Harris, putting the senior in multiple spots on the field to keep the ball in his hands. When teams overcommit to Harris, Central quarterback Kade Taylor has another playmaker in 6-foot-2, 180-pound receiver John Repp (20 catches, five touchdowns), but of the senior’s 13 TD passes, seven have gone to Harris, many of them on screen and short passes that turned into long scores.
“The difference between a 3-yard gain and a 60-yard gain is a missed tackle,” Kerr said. “That’s what we’ve got to do this week; Tackle well, especially on him, because he’s talented enough, but the quarterback throws the ball well, they’ve got a good receiver .. It’s not just (Harris), but if you shut him down, you’ve got a really good chance of winning.”
“That’s what we talk about watching film, stopping No. 3,” said PC-Hunter quarterback and defensive back Josh Irvin.
Central’s defense is more surmountable than a PC-Hunter unit that held opponents to 86 points all season including a five-game shutout streak from weeks 2-6, but is particularly hawkish. The Bronchos have 24 interceptions as a team, nine of them by Repp, who also leads Central in fumble recoveries with three of the team’s 10. Senior defensive end/linebacker George Wagoner has eight sacks to lead the Bronchos, who allow 17.5 points per game.
The winner of tonight’s game faces whichever team advances between Oaks and second-ranked district B-4 champion Wetumka in the next round.
Not that those Tigers have completely left the Panthers’ minds.
“I was kind of wondering how we’ll react, and I still wonder how we’ll react on Friday night, but I think these guys are experienced enough and have played in enough ballgames that they’ll let last Friday go and get ready for the playoffs,” Kerr said. “That’s the ultimate goal. We know there’ a whole other season.”
“We’re just focused and ready to play them again at state, hopefully,” Irvin said.