By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
Stigler’s ready for this — more ready than the Panthers thought they were a year ago.
This time, in the second round of the Class 3A playoffs Friday, it’s sixth-ranked Berryhill (9-1), which finished in a three-way tie with Metro Christian and Verdigris in 3A-5. It was Metro that ended the Panthers’ season with a 29-7 loss in Tulsa last year, keeping Stigler from a round-three playoff game they haven’t seen since 1965.
First, the Panthers (9-2) get to stay home, having won the tiebreaker with Roland to win the 3A-8 championship. Second, the Panthers have addressed one major element since losing to Metro last season.
“We knew we had to get more physical so we hit the weight room. We went to work immediately in the off-season and we’ve kept our strength up,” senior right guard/defensive tackle Logan Palmer.
That’ll come in handy for what is expected to be a battle in the trenches. For Palmer, that battle will begin on offense where he starts, but also shifts to defense as part of a rotation.
Berryhill, more than Metro last year, lives on the running game that focuses on the zone and counter schemes.
“We have to stay low up front and remain in our gaps and the back end guys will fill the holes,” Palmer said.
That poses double duty for guys like Panthers safety Ryan Echelle, the team’s leader in tackles.
“They like to pick on safeties with their passing game,” Stigler coach Chris Risenhoover said. “He’s a big part of our run stop coming out of the secondary. We’re going to have to lock their receivers up (at the corners), get pressure up front and allow him to do double-duty.”
As good a job as Echelle has done, he knows there’s limits.
“Against this kind of team I know they’re going to run, but they’re capable of throwing the ball so we can’t overload,” he said. “Then again I can’t sit there for 10 minutes with their quarterback running around looking for a receiver.
“We’ll need to pressure. Guys like (defensive end) Michael Rivera has been doing a good job in that situation, and Logan has been good in the middle. And I expect they’ll do the same this week.”
Echelle, who has worked some at receiver, expects the offense to have a better game than the 176-yard effort they had against Metro.
“The main thing on both sides of the ball is maturity both mentally and physically,” he said. “The physical is what we’ve worked on since off-season. The mental is partly knowing what’s going on with the offense and what we’re supposed to do within it.
“On defense, it’s knowing our keys. A lot of us have been out here two, three years. We’ve had plenty of time to get mentally prepared.”
And then, there have been the off-the-field challenges, the deaths of the team’s top receiver, Gordon Parsons (suicide) and starting center Cory Casinger (car accident). Casinger’s occurred just before training camp opened. Parsons’ occurred in September.
“Any time we step on the field we know we’ve been through more than anyone else,” Echelle said. “It’s made men out of all of us. We’ve grown up faster than most do at this age.”
Friday’s winner will travel to either Kingfisher or Tuttle the day after Thanksgiving.