Thursday, November 01, 2012Author: Jonathan Herrmann
(Last modified: 2012-11-01 10:00:43)
It's been more than 10 years since the Panthers last hosted a playoff game, making this year's first round match up against Walker Valley a special one.
"I'm really excited," senior tight end and linebacker Lucas Hamilton said. "It's a pretty big deal. We haven't had it in a while here. I've been to a lot of high school football games here and I can remember hosting a playoff game. I remember going to them when I was younger, but never hosting them."
The road to where Lenoir City currently stands has been a long one. When the current senior class arrived on campus as freshmen, they were joining a team that had won just two games in three seasons.
"It's a long way," Hamilton said. "I know none of us had really been accustomed to losing through little league and middle school football, basketball, baseball, any sport we've every played really. This is a class that isn't accustomed to losing. We got here, along with our coaching staff, trying to change the culture of Lenoir City."
Now, at 8-2. the Panthers will look to continue their improvement, going further into the playoffs than they did one year ago, when they finished 7-6 with an appearance in the state quarterfinal. Head coach Mike Zeller hopes the team's opportunity to host the first two rounds will help in that effort.
"Any time you're playing at home, that's an advantage, especially if the team's got to travel some distance," he said. "Hopefully it will be a big advantage for us this week and possibly, if we win, next week."
Before Lenoir City can worry about next week, though, they'll have to get past Walker Valley.
"Their offensive line, their tackles are very big," Zeller said. "They've got some skill guys that can hurt you. Defense is a little smaller than we're used to, but they've got some quickness that might present a challenge for us."
Quarterback Jordan Hall said Walker Valley likes to bring pressure with their linebacker, so the team will have to do a good job of picking up blitz packages and getting rid of the ball quickly.
"They run the ball well," Hamilton said. "If we can stop the run and make them one dimensional, and make them throw the ball around, then I like our chances to win."
Lenoir City is coming of their toughest game of the season, a 42-7 loss to Maryville.
It's a loss Hamilton feels can be good for the team in the long run.
"After last weekend against Maryville, I think we're humble," he said. "It was a good thing because we were feeling kind of invincible going in."
Hamilton said the team still feels confident, but not overly so.
"It should have brought them down to Earth," Zeller said. "Obviously we have to put that behind us and the kids understand that. It's a whole new season."
Zeller said the biggest reason for his team's one-sided loss at Maryville was a lack of execution and uncharacteristic play, much like in the team's loss to Bearden when they fumbled the ball away multiple times. Those will have to be avoided moving forward if the Panthers hope to make a strong run.
"We dropped a lot of balls and did some uncharacteristic things," he said. "We're going to have to do what we've been doing most of year, and that's get the balls to our play makers and they're going to have to make plays."
If the Panthers win in round one they will face the winner of Ooltewah and Anderson County Nov. 9. Making it to the third round would mean either traveling to Columbia, a team Lenoir City beat on the road during last season's run, or hosting a third game.
In order to host through they playoffs they will need Columbia to lose prior to the third round and Powell to be upset before the state semifinal.
"The town hasn't experience this in a while, so hopefully we'll have a big fan support out here," Zeller said. "They worked hard and this town's, I think, been ready for a good team. Hopefully we'll show up."
Copyright © 2013, News-Herald