An emotional victory over the No. 1 seed in Region 6B gave the Massaponax football team a bit more swagger in practice this week.
But it also left the Panthers a bit drained.
Massaponax knocked off Freedom–Woodbridge in a heart-stopping 45–42 thriller Friday night as Stephen Hudson kicked the game-winning 20-yard field goal as time expired.
The Panthers (10–2) visit Colonial Forge (10–2) in Friday night’s region championship game. Head coach Eric Ludden was wary of his players feeling a bit too good following the victory, but with a region championship on the line against a team that’s handled them in three consecutive contests, the Panthers aren’t likely to become complacent.
“That’s something that we talked about [Monday],” Ludden said. “I’m sure everybody was still kind of glowing a bit from that [win]. One thing we’ve really emphasized this year is not looking back and not starting banquet talk. You’ve just got to look to the next game.”
Ludden considers “banquet talk” conversation about the pride taken in a big victory and discussing previous accomplishments. There’s no room for that with the Eagles up next.
Colonial Forge has defeated Massaponax by a combined score of 92–10 their past three meetings. The Panthers’ high-powered triple–option offense has been held to three points or fewer just three times in the past seven years; two of those were by the Eagles.
“They’re a talented team and a well-coached team,” Ludden said. “They always present a challenge for us.”
Freedom head coach Darryl Overton, a former Colonial Forge assistant, faced both the Eagles and Panthers this season.
Freedom handed Colonial Forge its first loss of the season in a 30–27 thriller in the second game of the season, also decided by a last-play field goal.
Overton said because the Eagles and Panthers are so familiar with each other, one may have to do something different to come out with the victory.
Overton noted that Massaponax’s vaunted triple–option isn’t what caused his team to falter. He said, rather, it was the Panthers’ ability to generate points in other ways.
“They blocked a punt and the play that was having success on us was their down play, which is their trap,” Overton said. “It looks like option but it’s a trap play. They did a good job with that play. The option stuff we played really well against. But they got an interception return for a touchdown. They got a big play on a fake punt. So they did all the other things.”
Still, the Eagles’ main focus this week is slowing down the triple-option. Defensive coordinator Rich Munsell and defensive assistant Bill Brown have been hard at work all week devising a game-plan.
Head coach John Brown said one of the keys is assembling a scout team of backups and junior varsity call-ups that can effectively simulate the Panthers’ offense. He said the scout team won’t be able to execute with the Panthers’ speed or crispness, but it can give the starting defense a good idea of what it will face.
“We have a good defensive staff and I think it starts there,” Brown said. “And we have a good group of kids on defense that take the challenge personal and want to be successful.”
In the Eagles’ 21–3 victory over Massaponax on Oct. 25, defensive linemen Chase Harley, Mason Rega and Mike Vinson combined for 31 tackles. Inside linebacker Max Kauthen had 12 tackles. Outside linebacker Jordan Savoy contributed nine, including six solo.
The past three meetings have gone much differently than when Bill and John Brown first arrived at Colonial Forge in 2007. The Eagles went 3–5 against Massaponax from 2007–14. Massaponax averaged 43.5 points per game against the Eagles in four straight wins from 2011–14.
“Insanity is when you keep doing the same thing and expect a different outcome,” Bill Brown said. “We haven’t kept doing the same thing that didn’t work against Massaponax in years past …. You’ve got to learn from your mistakes. You can take a pencil and paper and draw up something and say it should work and when you try to execute it they make you look silly.”
Bill Brown said preparation for Massaponax is an intriguing week because the offense is “extremely different from everything else that you play.”
He said it’s often difficult for teenagers to make so many adjustments on the fly, but the Eagles have a mature group that’s been up to the challenge.
“It’s hard for college people, let alone high school kids, to hone in on it and understand it and execute the defense with really three and a half days of focusing on trying to stop what they do,” Bill Brown said. “They run the veer option, which is the triple, and they run the midline option. They look very much the same to the defense but they’re not anywhere near the same and the quarterback is going to run the ball at very different places.”
Bill Brown added that when the Panthers mix in power runs, sweeps and counters it causes more headaches. And when the defense least expects it, they’ll call a play-action pass that often leads to receivers wide open for touchdowns.
“All of that brings a huge challenge,” Bill Brown said. “And I guarantee you one thing: we will have a huge challenge on Friday night.”