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Panthers face Lions in quarterfinals

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The seventh-seeded Jal football team visits second-seeded Santa Rosa Friday night in the quarterfinals of Class 2A playoffs. The winner of the game will face the winner of Fort Sumner/House and Newcomb in the semifinal. This is the first meeting between the two squads of the season.

Jal (5-5, 2-1) defeated Loving 62-8 to reach the quarterfinals. The Panthers will be taking on the Lions (9-1, 3-0), a team with state championship aspirations. Panther head coach Caleb Aldridge acknowledges Santa Rosa is a solid program that is always in the discussion to play and possibly win the state championship every year.

“It’s gonna be a tough game, it’s a tough place to play,” said Aldridge on playing in Santa Rosa. “They got some great fans, some rowdy fans. It’s just kind of different atmosphere during playoffs. Were looking forward to the opportunity.”

“I feel like our strength most of the year has been stopping the run,” Aldridge said. “We have done a pretty good job against most teams. To start off the season our weakness was pass coverage, that’s something I feel we have gotten better at as the season progressed.”

The Panther defense will be tested on Friday night by the Lion offense. The Lions average 38 points, 319 rushing yards, and 11 passing yards a game. The Lions offense looks to gain an early lead by scoring an average of 18 points in the first quarter. Aldridge knows that the Lions are a running team, but he knows that they can catch you off guard with a pass.

Aldridge’s game plan to slow down the Lion offense is to use the blitz. He wants to throw off the rhythm and timing of snaps and handoffs with an aggressive blitzing defensive approach. He has seen on tape that Santa Rosa’s offense relies on its timing to get into the open spaces. If they can break Santa Rosa’s timing then Aldridge believes his defense can contain the run and keep the opponent from making many big runs. The defense has been working on pass coverage with a zone cover instead of using man coverage. He has stressed to his defense the importance of being disciplined to truly have a chance of knocking off the second seed.

“We are really trying to push the tempo and get them defensively on their heel and not really able to make adjustments during a drive,” said Aldridge on what to expect of his offense against Santa Rosa. “They don’t have a lot of depth, they play about 13, maybe 14 guys between offense and defense. I feel if we can really push the tempo on offense and keep the pace at a high pace, that can benefit us.”

Aldridge wants his offense to push the tempo more than they have all season. He wants the high tempo to help fatigue his opponent’s players especially in the third and fourth quarters. If his players’ conditioning allows them to keep that pace, then he believes his squad can win in a close game.

Aldridge has warned his offense that it cannot afford to have negative plays or penalties that force it to go third and long. The offense must stay on schedule if it plans to have success against a disciplined defensive unit. He knows clock management and possession will become important for two rushing style offenses.

On Friday night in Santa Rosa, the Jal Panthers will be playing the role of spoiler in hopes of reaching the semifinals and being closer to winning a state championship.

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Jal @ Santa Rosa Friday, 7 p.m.

Burkett Shaw
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