Waukomis could be getting Pond Creek-Hunter at the right time as the Chiefs attempt to break an 18-game losing streak when they visit the Panthers (2-4, 1-2) at 7 p.m. Friday.
Pond Creek-Hunter, last year's Class C state champions, is coming off back-to-back losses to Ringwood, 30-6 and Okeene, 28-10. Panthers coach David Kerr said that gives Waukomis some hope.
"I don't think there's any doubt there,'' Kerr said. "We haven't scared any teams off. I know they are confident they can play with us and beat us. We will have to play well to win Friday night.''
The Chiefs only trailed B-2 leader Ringwood 12-8 going into the fourth quarter last week before falling 30-8. They were in position to take the lead before making "a pivotal mistake'' that has haunted them this season.
"A win would be very good for our program, school and community, said Chiefs head coach Mark Timberlake. The kids have worked hard and have played hard going into the final whistle. We have been making mistakes that determine the outcome of the game. You can't do that and be successful.''
It's the first game between the two teams since 2015. Pond Creek-Hunter has won the last 11 meetings with Waukomis' last win coming in 1998, 36-16.
The Panthers' four losses matches the school's total losses for the past four years. Pond Creek-Hunter was in the state championship game three of the last four years in Class C before moving up to Class B.
"It's been a difficult season,'' Kerr said. "It's just been a weird year.''
The Panthers had two games canceled because of COVID-19. Running back Zander Clayton didn't play against Ringwood, forcing end John Theophilius to play tight end. Not having spring practice or summer camps didn't help a team that had only two seniors (Theophilius and Corbin Burnham). Burnham, one of three returning starters, was the only starter back in his natural position on defense.
Burnham, in his first year at quarterback, has thrown for 10 touchdowns and run for four more. Theophilius has caught five TD passes. Zander Clayton has scored 10 touchdowns. Burnham and Theophilius could be playing their final home games as Panthers depending how the playoff picture would work out. The duo will be honored before the game.
"I hope we can use that as a motivating factor,'' Kerr said. "Chances are this could be their last home game. We have tried to use all of those motivating factors. It's been a weird year. There's no telling how they will react.''
Waukomis will be without senior guard-end Cooper Wieden. It is down to 14 to 15 healthy players, not allowing the Chiefs to go eight-on-eight in practice.
"That really hurts,'' said Timberlake about Wieden's loss. "If he was in our defensive front, we would look a lot different, but he's not. We have to have next-man-up mentality. That's something these kids need to learn.''
Timberlake said either Dakota Hines or Ricky Woodruff would start at quarterback. Hines hit Woodruff for a touchdown pass for the Chiefs' lone score against Ringwood.
"Whichever one gives us a better advantage is the one that we're going to go with,'' Timberlake said.
Both teams were in school Monday and were able to practice ahead of ice storms that have paralyzed the area. Neither practiced Tuesday, but both were scheduled to practice Wednesday.
Timberlake said his team has maintained a good attitude and spirit and has continued to learn and improve.
But frustration remains.
The Chiefs had a season-high 207 yards rushing in a 36-22 loss to Kremlin-Hillsdale on Oct. 15 and moved the ball well against Ringwood. They had a first-and-goal on the 6-yard line with a chance to take the lead but snapped the ball over the quarterback's head.
"We need to seize the moment when it comes,'' Timberlake said. "We need to dial it in and make it count. The defense has given us a number of opportunities to capitalize, but we just haven't done it. Our kryptonite is when we get the ball in scoring position. We do something to hurt us. Our focus this week is to finish — finish drives and finish tackles. We just need to finish.''
Thad Terrel made a couple of good catches against Ringwood, Timberlake said. Hines has hit some key passes. Woodruff and Wyatt Felber have had some good runs. Tyler Vanover "is coming into his own on defense.''
"I'm unbelievably proud of our effort the last couple of weeks,'' he said. "We're a totally different team than we were against Timberlake (56-6 on Sept. 11). These kids are unbelievably coachable and I think if they keep going in the right direction, they will be successful.''
Both teams are assured of going to the playoffs no matter the results of the last two weeks. A win no doubt would help both teams' seeding. Pond Creek-Hunter, at 1-2, is in a three-way tie with Okeene and Kremlin-Hillsdale for third. Waukomis, 0-2, can move up with wins over the Panthers and Okeene next week. PC-H faces Cherokee (2-0) next week.