Don’t look now, but there’s something special brewing on the grid iron in Paola, as the Panthers have rolled to four impressive victories to open the season. Unlike the last two seasons, which incidentally saw the Panthers advance to the sub-state championship game, only to lose to eventual state champions, Bishop Miege in 2009 and Louisburg in 2010, the Panthers have not been tripped up in an early season contest, and have come through the first four games not only unscathed, but basically unchallenged.
Two years ago it was the Eudora Cardinals who came to Paola and stole a victory over a Panther team that was though to be superior. Last year there was a pair of baffling losses to open the season, at home, to Baldwin and DeSoto. Granted, each of those early season losses were erased by play-off wins, and we’ll be the first to admit that, given the Kansas State High School football playoff system, a regular season loss really doesn’t matter.
No, losing one of those first five games doesn’t hurt you. Unless you hold league championships near and dear to your heart, because, after all, losing a game to a team like Baldwin in the first game of the year, like the Panthers did last year, didn’t stop them from playing a “winner takes all” game against Louisburg in November with a shot at the state championship game on the line.
Nope, losing a regular season game to Eudora, no matter how disappointing it was two years ago, did not slow the Panthers march to the sub-state championship game against Miege at Panther Stadium.
Think about it, while undefeated records are nice, losing one of your first six games really doesn’t hurt. Shoot, the Louisburg Wildcats have lost two of their first four, they’re sitting exactly where Paola was last year after four games, and the Panthers rolled all the way to the sub-state championship game against those very Wildcats. Losses early in the year don’t hurt.
Now, if the Panthers can roll through the next two games unscathed, defeat a Eudora Cardinal team that also owns shut-out victories over Louisburg and DeSoto to match up with Paola’s shut-outs of DeSoto and Ottawa, and then survive the “run and shoot” offense of St. James the next week, then they will be in a good position to have a chance to run the table.
Getting through those two road games with wins will set Paola up for the Tom-Tom game against Osawatomie in the first game of the district playoffs and they will follow that up with another home game against Spring Hill.
Then, you know what, that sets up the exact scenario as last year, with the tables turned when Paola travels to Louisburg for the final game of the regular season. If the Wildcats can win out, they will host the Panthers with the district championship on the line with two losses and will be trying to spoil Paola’s unbeaten season at that point.
But, just like last year, that game won’t knock anyone out of the playoffs, it will just determine who might have the more difficult opponent in the bi-district game three days later.
For now though, it looks like it could be a special season for the Panthers, I saw a short quote in one of the rankings describing the Panthers as “this years Louisburg”. I would venture to say that the Panthers are on the same track as the Wildcats were last year, but they are not just “this years Louisburg,” they’ve been at this too long, have too good a track record, and have advanced too deep in the playoffs over the past five years or so to be “this year’s anything”.
The Panthers are on a journey they are accustomed to, they’ve been here before and they know how to handle the situation. But, it’s fun to go along for the ride, there’s something special brewing in P-Town, and we all need to come along for the ride.