ALVA, Okla. — The stakes are always high in games between district opponents. Add in a potential trip to the Class C championship game, and the tensions don't get any tighter.
District foes Pond Creek-Hunter and Timberlake will square off in the Class C semifinals at Northwestern Oklahoma State University's Ranger Field Friday at 7 p.m.
"We have a lot of respect for them, no doubt," Timberlake head coach Brian Severin said earlier this week. "Hopefully they have the same respect for us because we're going to show up and we're going to play hard also."
Head coach David Kerr and the Panthers (12-0) advanced into the semifinals for the fourth consecutive year after shutting out Covington-Douglas, 48-0, last week. The Tigers (9-3) kept their season alive with an upset of previously undefeated Southwest Covenant, 40-26.
Both of Timberlake's postseason wins this month occurred on the road. The Tigers traveled two hours south to Mountain View-Gotebo for their first-round and returned with a 28-24 victory.
Severin said Timberlake has a history of traveling considerable distances for road playoff games. It's often had success on those journeys too.
"We just kind of use that as a positive motivator that we've done it in the past, we can do it again," Severin said.
Timberlake is in the midst of the greatest 1-year turnaround in the 27-year history of the school. The Tigers finished a dismal 2-8 last season after losing six of their final seven games.
Much of Timberlake's struggles were due to a number of injuries. With everyone back healthy this time around, momentum is on the Tigers' side, having now won six of the last seven games.
Kerr said to avoid becoming Timberlake's next victim, the Panthers need to worry about themselves and executing their jobs.
"If we're playing our best football and we get beat, so be it," Kerr said. "But we want to play up to our standards."
Pond Creek-Hunter, which has won the vast majority of its games this season with apparent ease, was tested in its matchup against Timberlake in late September. The Panthers won 46-38, but it was one of only three games that didn't end by mercy-rule for Pond Creek-Hunter this year.
The Tigers managed to keep pace with the Panthers for much of the contest, and even led 20-16 midway through the second quarter. Timberlake sophomore quarterback Ethan Jenlink completed 18 of 41 attempts for 267 yards and one touchdown. He also had four interceptions.
Kerr said he knew going into the earlier meeting that the Tigers had plenty of talent, but he didn't expect such a pass-heavy attack from a team that traditionally sets its priority on running the ball.
"They came out and threw the ball a lot more," Kerr said. "Obviously that's been a big part of their offense this year. I think maybe our game was the first one the really kind of opened it up a little lot and threw quite a bit, which has been good for them this season. They've been very successful through the air. So that kind of shocked us a little bit."
On Friday, the Panthers will be ready for either approach Timberlake commits toward.
Pond Creek-Hunter's run game proved to be the difference in the prior meeting as the Panthers gained 355 yards on 53 carries. Junior running back Noah Miller alone had 25 carries for 196 yards and two touchdowns.
"We're going to have to do a really good job of controlling the ball and controlling the clock," Severin said. "They're so big on the offensive line. They're going to be hard to stop. We know that."
Pond Creek-Hunter possessed the ball for just over 22 minutes more than Timberlake in the prior meeting. The Tigers four turnovers also did not help their cause.
Friday will be Timberlake's sixth appearance in the state semifinals. The last time it advanced to a championship game was in 2009 when it defeated Seiling, 38-16.
Pond Creek-Hunter has four state championship appearances since 2012, but it last claimed the title in 2002 and 2001.
Since 1996, Pond Creek-Hunter and Timberlake have met 10 times. The Tigers lead the series 6-4, but the Panthers have won three of the past four meetings.
The winner will face either Waynoka or Tipton next week for the Class C championship.