BURIEN — The good news is the Wenatchee Panthers are in the state playoff again. The bad news is they are the bottom seed, so they must play the number one seed in the first round.
In this case, Wenatchee must play the Kennedy Catholic Lancers on Friday in the first round of the State 4A playoffs. The Panthers are 7-3 on the season while the Lancers are 10-0.
Wenatchee is the 16th seed.
“We’re not in control of that situation. We had a chance to move up but a couple of losses made us fall back, so we have to play whoever we play,” said Wenatchee Head Coach Scott Devereaux.
The Panthers lost their final two regular-season games, at Walla Walla 28-21 and at Eastmont 28-24. Wenatchee earned the Big 9’s second seed into the state playoffs with a victory over Sunnyside in a three-way playoff last Saturday.
The Lancers have a high powered air-raid style offense averaging 44 points a game. Their quarterback is junior Sam Huard, the son of former UW QB Damon Huard. He’s thrown for 3,476 yards and 49 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. Sam Huard as already committed to UW.
His main target is junior Junior Alexander, who has 53 receptions for 1,126 yards and 20 touchdowns. The defense is led by senior Sav’ell Smalls, one of the top recruits in the country.
“They do everything really well. They run it. They throw it. They play defense. They have five or six guys with multiple division one offers. They have everything they need to be state champions,” Devereaux said.
The Lancers run mainly a one-back offense, spreading the field and throwing it.
Devereaux said they have three division one receivers. They throw it often, running the ball just enough to keep you honest.
“Defensively, they have the number one ranked defensive end (Smalls) in the country. He has over 30 division one offers. They move him around a little bit. Sometimes he’s an end. Sometimes he’s a nose guard. Sometimes he’s a tackle,” Devereaux said. “They typically have an even front, with man and zone coverage and they are very aggressive.”
Wenatchee is led by senior running back Nathan Blauman, named the co-offensive player of the year in the Big 9 along with Sunnyside’s Mike Rivera.
Blauman rushed for 1,385 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Junior quarterback Camden Sirmon threw for 1,893 yards, 20 touchdowns and just 3 interceptions.
Sirmon was voted first-team All-Big 9. Junior JJ Jelsing led Wenatchee with 48 catches for 628 yards and 5 touchdowns. He was voted second-team All-Big 9.
“Nothing really changes for us. We’re going to do what we do best and run the ball. Hopefully, we can get three or four yards a carry and keep their offense off the field. We’ll mix in our screen game. We’re going to try to keep them off-balance with motions, shifts and formations,” he said. “Everything we possibly can do to get an advantage we’re going to do it.”
On defense, the Panthers are led by senior lineman Chase Loidhammer, who was voted the Big 9 Defensive Lineman of the Year. The Wenatchee D-line was the Big 9 Defensive Line of the Year. The Panthers were the top defense in the Big 9, limiting opponents to 281 yards per game.
Devereaux thinks their D-line can get after them a little bit.
“They only block with five guys because they leak their back out in a lot of pass routes. We’re going to test them early, see if we can get pressure on them,” Devereaux said. “If that doesn’t work, we have a couple of defenses with extra defensive backs. We’ll roll those out once in a while. For us, it’s important we run the ball very well and keep their offense off the field as much as possible.”
Devereaux said the Lancers do a lot of pooching and onside kickoffs, trying to put pressure on the return team. They can also boot the ball to the end zone. He’s not sure what they have in store for Wenatchee.
“Their punting team isn’t anything special. They do have really good returners. They are all bigtime college football players in the future. We’re not going to kick it deep to those guys. We’re going to play games and tackle, tackle, tackle,” he said.
The Panthers have had a good week of practice, Devereaux said.
“We’re not afraid or intimidated. Our kids feel like they’ve earned a spot. We’re going to go in there and play our best football, keep it close and win it at the end,” Devereaux said. “The players are feeling good. They are looking forward to being in the playoffs, getting another week of hanging out and just playing football.”