LLANO, TX- The Christoval Cougars are going head-to-head with the Burton Panthers in Llano Thursday night in the first round of high school football playoffs.
A couple weeks ago, the Cougs and Panthers would’ve battled it out for big cat supremacy in the regional finals round of the playoffs. After a crazy couple of weeks, it’s a first round match-up.
The Burton Panthers were playing an ineligible player and had to forfeit 7 games. All this was due to a “clerical error” on the student’s part. Even after the penalty, Burton still had a shot to get into the playoffs. The Panthers got the help they needed and squeaked in as the 4th seed in their district. That was good enough to play Christoval in the opening round.
What do the Cougars think about the Panthers?
“They’re a good football team. It’s the high school playoffs and once everyone gets here everyone’s got the same record, everybody’s deserving of where they’re it, and we treat each game like it’s a win or because (now) it’s a win or go home situation.” Cougar Head Coach Casey Otho said.
Christoval is taking a “business of usual” approach to this one. This seems like the answer to how C-Town handled the entire season.
The coach is an important part to the team but how to the players feel about the playoffs and their head coach? How to they view their own team?
One thing was very evident from talking to this group of young men. They are a team and there is no selfishness in the locker room.
Senior back Josh Fava had only praise for his offensive line saying “My line, this year, they’re stronger than ever and they just make holes for me and let me do what I’m going to do. I follow them.”
Offensively, it’s no secret that the Cougars are a run heavy team this season. The Cougar running backs, Josh Fava and Ketcher Joiner are a one-two combo of bashing and thrashing the defense. Together, the Juggernaut Brothers have 2,197 rushing yards and 34 touchdowns on the ground. Once these guys get a little momentum, they don’t go looking for a dance partner, they go looking for someone to steamroll.
Junior juggernaut Joiner also had good things to say not only about the offensive line, but Fava as well. “Josh is a big help…having him run the ball so well makes me open up opportunities to run the ball well. I hit the gap hard and I feel like that’s what I bring to the team.”
How to the offensive linemen feel? When you look at stat lines you see rushing and passing yards, but none of that could be accomplished without the big guys up front.
Offensive lineman Kaleb Dye and Brendon Wilcox enjoy the praise from their coach. “It’s really great to see that they back us when we work hard and that we’re appreciated.” Dye said. They’re not wrong either. Christoval had 2,759 yards rushing on the ground and together the team has 159 pancake blocks.
The Cougar line is doing better business then IHOP at this point.
Both Wilcox and Dye predict that they’ll have 5 pancake blocks in the game.
Senior receiver Riley Workman says the team works hard regardless of if the ball is coming their way or not, “When the ball is not coming to us, we focus on blocking and making Josh (Fava) look better.” Talking about a catch that came back due to a penalty, “When something like that happens, we just look forward to the next play and we just focus on future instead of the past.”
What about defensively?
It’s easy to get lost with the Cougar secondary basically making up the new position of defensive receiver, but the front 7 has been playing lights out.
61 quarterback hurries, 18 sacks, and 75 tackles for loss means the Red Seas crashes into you and wave after wave wears you down.
Teams don’t know who to complain to about the No-Fly Zone over Jack Pardee Stadium. Out of all the players in the state, 1A-6A, Christoval has two players ranked in the top 20 in interceptions.
Senior Beau Jolly and Junior Cayden Carpenter have 15 interceptions on the season and the defense, dubbed the Red Sea by some in the media, has 18 altogether.
Being on an island there isn’t much to do so Carpenter studies film and it’s easy to see on Fridays through the season.
“Just watching film, being prepared every week, and having the right game plan as a secondary” Carpenter said. When asked about Burton, Carpenter said “They’re probably going to run it, they’re pretty big off the line and they come off pretty hard and fast you know, they’re a bigger team.”
By the stat line, you wouldn’t realize that Carpenter was hurt in the 3rd game of the season last year. Standing on the sidelines gave him a year to watch, learn, and a new perspective. What was it like for him to watch from the sidelines?
“It was terrible. I learned about what you can do off the field. Learned a lot through film but it was terrible. It made me love football even more and not want to lose it even more. Now it’s just like, I got to win, I got to go on another run this year.” Carpenter said.
This year is a different story, “It feels good, it feels amazing. I don’t take it for granted anymore. Now I just play relaxed.”
The entire Cougar team has nothing but respect for the Burton Panthers.
Lastly, what do the players think about their fearless leader?
“Being a senior with Otho he’s the only head coach I’ve ever had. We put all our trust in him… having Otho defiantly gives us a step up on people just because of who he is. He’s calm, collected, and we all just trust in him.” Jolly said.
Tune into SanAngeloLIVE.com for coverage, highlights, and analysis when Christoval battles Burton in Llano at 7:00 p.m. on Friday night. War is coming for Llano and the Cougars are bringing the wrath of the Red Sea with them.