For the Paschal Panthers, their first win has been an elusive one. But this Friday presents an opportunity for a program-defining upset that could turn the season around for the winless Panthers.
The Panthers (0-5) travel to Arlington’s Cravens Field to face the Arlington Lamar Vikings (2-3), a team that is rich in football history and tradition. The Vikings are currently tied with North Crowley at the top of the District 4-5A standings at 2-0.
“They’re by far the best team we’ve faced all year,” head coach Matt Cook said. “They’re just loaded with talent and speed and very well coached. I’m excited to see how we stand up.”
After a disappointing 42-10 loss last week to district rival North Crowley, Cook said that the Panthers have been undaunted in one of the best weeks of practice so far this season.
“It makes me feel really good,” Cook said. “Anytime you go winless, you worry about your morale. That was big concern for us because we’re facing a formidable, high-powered opponent. But that doesn’t faze our kids. They play football for games like this.”
Cook is no stranger to Lamar’s football tradition. He was a high school football player himself when the Vikings were on the cusp of state titles in the early ‘90s.
“I can remember Shawn Walters, their running back, and they had such great pride and tradition with coach [Eddy] Peach,” Cook said. “Coach [Trent] Fuller to me has continued that and done a great job of keeping that tradition and building upon it.”
The Panthers have taken full advantage of this week in practice to improve and prepare for their game with the high-caliber Vikings.
Quarterback Chris Hanson said that the offense’s focus this week has been limiting turnovers and capitalizing when they get the ball. Hanson is also confident about facing Lamar’s defense.
“They run a cover-three and I’m pretty comfortable with that based on what the coaches have taught me,” Hanson said. “They like to blitz their inside linebackers a lot, so we’ll have a lot of short passes and hopefully our receivers can do something with them.”
On defense, the Panthers have made a few changes and moved an additional linebacker into the box. Cook has been impressed with the play of his secondary and hopes they can take advantage of Connor Berry, Lamar’s quarterback, who has six interceptions compared to seven touchdowns. Defensive lineman Connor Fanning feels confident about how the Panthers matchup with Lamar in the trenches.
“Their o-line isn’t very big, but they play like a unit,” Fanning said. “We have a little more speed than them up-front, so hopefully we can hurt them there.”
In the midst of all their hard work, the Panthers have not lost sight of how monumental a win would be this Friday night.
“It would be a huge boost of confidence, especially going into homecoming against Weatherford.” Hanson said. “Knowing that they’re at the top of the District, to get a win against them would be awesome.”
Upsetting the Vikings will be a challenge, but it is a challenge that Paschal is prepared to face.
“When you work as hard as we’ve been working and our kids are as dedicated as they are, they deserve it,” Cook said. “We’re always confident — we’ve done it before. We’ve got those types of kids that will fight the whole time. But it will be a tough task no matter who we play from here on out.”