By Antonio Morales
Photo by Alan Hale
After knocking off the Olton Mustangs 54-6 in the opening round of the Class 2A Division II playoffs, the Wildcats continue their march into the post-season Saturday against the Hawley Bearcats.
Coming off a 4-6 season in 2012, the Bearcats were seemingly headed for another losing season and their prospects for the post-season weren’t looking too great after a 64-12 loss to Cisco dropped them to 1-5. Instead of folding under the pressure of a tough district schedule, the Bearcats reeled off four consecutive wins to snatch second-place in District 4-2A Division II and earn a playoff spot.
“They’re playing with a lot of confidence right now,” said Wildcat head coach Chris Koetting. “They started the year really slow, but they’re really coming on now.”
Hawley’s improved defense anchored their mid-season turnaround, having only allowed 10 points per contest over their last five games. Junior lineman Lane Pickett and senior lineman Kneeland Donnelly have led the resurgence with their abilities to apply constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
“They’re probably the best pass rushers we’ve seen all year,” said Koetting. “They’re going to be a handful.”
The pair of speedy linemen made their mark on last week’s playoff win against Alpine. They pressured dual-threat senior quarterback Evan Moore all night long and shut out a team that went in averaging 40 points per game.
The Wildcats line must bring their usual A-game and make sure that Arbuckle and his high-powered offense get off to a quicker start than they did against Olton. The Wildcats were uncharacteristically turned away twice inside the red zone last Thursday night.
“We have to jump out to a fast start and not be too tentative,” said Wildcat receiver Braiden Galla.
On the other side of the ball, the Bearcats rely heavily on their seasoned running backs. Seniors Kaegan Fernandez and Levi Irby contributed all three scores in the program’s first playoff win last week, combining for 214 yards against the Alpine defense.
“They have some really physical backs,” said Koetting. “They’re not the fastest, but they’re a load to bring down.”
This will be the latest test for a Wildcat defensive front that has focused on stopping the run since giving up nearly 700 rushing yards through their first three games of 2013.
“Coaches remind us every week in practice that we need to be more physical and aggressive,” said Galla. “Now there’s little doubt about our ability to stop the run and we have to keep getting better.”
The Wildcat defensive will continue to be tested as they go deeper in the playoffs. Their side of the bracket is filled with teams that like to control the clock by instilling their run-game.
“Every one knows that our side of the bracket is full of running teams,” said Wildcat defensive back Braiden Galla. “Playing teams like Stratford and Abernathy early on has really prepared us for what’s ahead.”
The next step for the Wildcats comes Saturday in Wichita Falls when they clash with the 6-5 Bearcats inside Memorial Stadium at noon.