The NUIC conference has been downright dominant in the state for the last 14 seasons, as they have placed 13 teams in the finals with 11 teams winning titles. The NUIC Northwest has been even more dominant, as they have had a conference member win the state title 7 times in the past 10 seasons, with 6 of those titles coming in the last 7 seasons. This year will be no different as the winner of this game will put the NUIC Northwest back in the title game for a chance to bring home title number 8, and each school chasing their 3rd title.
Lena-Winslow and Forreston have combined for 4 state titles in the past 7 seasons, and 3 titles in the past 4 seasons. The Panthers and Cardinals have faced off with each other every year since 2001 in the regular season, and Le-Win leads the match-up 12-5. In the playoffs Le-Win has almost the exact same success, as they have met up 4 times with the Panthers leading that series 3-1. Ironically, all the playoff games, including this game Saturday, have been played at the Le-Win Athletic Bowl.
Since Le-Win last won the state title in 2013, the Cardinals and Panthers have met 4 times, each winning twice, including this year's 28-14 win by Le-Win in week 2. We asked Coach Diduch if he thought the week 2 loss was a good thing for his team, and he replied, "Losing is good or ok as long as you learn from it. We took the attitude of "good", now get better. As a coaching staff we had the kids attention, and the players had the bad taste in their mouth of disappointment and were willing to make the changes necessary to give themselves the opportunity of a rematch. A rematch, knowing that very rarely in life do you get a 2nd chance."
During that span they have met in the playoffs once, last year while Forreston cruised to their state title, in the quarterfinals where the Cards won 44-7. It is always tough to play a team a second time around, especially with teams of this caliber. Having already beat Forreston this year, asked if he thought his team had the pressure on them for this game, Coach Arand replied, "I think anytime that you are playing to go to the state championship there is pressure on both teams. The loser goes home and neither team would be very happy doing that! I wouldn’t say that one team is really favored over the other."
When you look at both teams, outside of few differences between what they try to do, they are almost mirror images of each other. The Panthers have rushed for 4,296 yards on the season, while the Cards have almost matched that with 4,159 yards rushing of their own. In their first meeting, All-State running back Rahveon Valentine rushed for just over 200 yards. When asked about Forreston containing Rahveon fairly well throughout the game outside of the big run that helped spark the comeback for the Panthers, Coach Arand said, "I would fully expect a defense like Forreston to keep him somewhat in check, however I think he rushed for a total of 205 yards in the game so I think he had a pretty good game even outside the 81 yard run. I don’t recall too many kids or teams rushing for over 200 yards against Forreston in the past 4-5 years. I think it is very important for Rahveon to have another productive day against Forreston just as he has all year long. At this point during the year if your studs don’t have great games you generally go home."
Le-Win will also have big playmakers in RB Sean Ormiston and Gaige Schwartz, QB Ty Chrisman, Ends Isaiah Bruce and Parker Magee, and we cannot forget the big guys up front led by Michael Jones and Ian Kuehl. Forreston will counter that with playmakers of their own in All-State running back AJ Christensen, and joining him in the backfield are Gavin Fuchs, Garett Badertscher, Evan Kelsey, and Ethan Mulder. At the helm of the offense is QB Hunter Daws, with big TE Sam Barkalow, and the guys up front with Mitchell Heinz, Brayden Walton, Matt Akins, and Skylar Regez.
Forreston is looking for their 3rd state title in 4 seasons, and with many of the players returning from last year's state title team, who were also there in 2014 as freshmen at state, this team has played in their share of big games, and with that comes confidence. Coach Diduch thinks playing in big games in the past will be beneficial in this game, as he said, " I do think having played in big games before helps. We have had intense practices but there has been a sense of calm focus....not excitement. The excitement and anticipation will build throughout the week. The boys know that crazy intensity and nerves on Monday and Tuesday of a game week is only a waste of energy. The kids will be nervous and excited on Saturday because they care how they perform not because of the crowd, the stakes, or Le-Win."
With the chance to go to state on the line it is very easy for teams to get nervous as they know what is at stake. Specifically in this game, you know exactly what you are facing as you have already played each other 3 times in the past 2 seasons. It is important to make sure the boys stay loose and focused, and we asked Coach Arand his thoughts on his Panthers, "This is a very unique group of kids we have this year. I would say that they are always loose, sometimes too much for my liking! Great group of kids who seem like the moment is never too big. Very focused, but yet confident and humble."
When you look at these two teams you also look at two of the best coaches the NUIC has, and both are very good at making adjustments to propel their teams to victory. After reviewing film from that week 2 match-up it was clear there were a few plays both teams could have capitalized on, but missed assignments negated those turning point drives. Asked about how much he will take away from the week 2 match-up, Coach Diduch replied, " We will mainly focus on the game we had against Lena. We will watch other films, but ultimately all that matters is what happens when these two teams play each other and how our specific styles, personnel, and strength/weaknesses match up with each other."
This should be an extremely intense, physical game. Weather may play an impact, as early reports call for temperatures to be in the low 40's with a wet field after rains throughout Friday night and Saturday morning. Winds will be around 20-30 mph as well in the early forecast, which could hamper or help the passing game. In the history of this rivalry there haven't been too many blowouts, as the majority of the time these games have been very close with either team having opportunities to win. I expect another match-up that will be close.
This game will be played at 2 pm, gates will open at 12:15 pm, and a large crowd is more than anticipated Saturday afternoon in Lena. The game will be aired on 92.1 FM.
Behind the Numbers:
Forreston Cardinals 11-1
Conference: NUIC Northwest
Playoff Record: 27-20
Trips to Playoffs: 23
State Titles: 2014, 2016
Points/Game For: 41.3
Points/Game Against: 9.8
How They Got Here
Round 1: Won 50-14 Salt Fork
Round 2: Won 30-6 Fulton
Round 3: Won 42-0 Princeville
Lena-Winslow Panthers 12-0
Conference: NUIC Northwest
Playoff Record: 33-21
Trips to Playoffs: 24
State Titles: 2010, 2013
Points/Game For: 48.9
Points/Game Against: 11.5
How They Got Here
Round 1: Won 55-20 Stark County
Round 2: Won 49-16 Milledgeville
Round 3: Won 67-28 Aquin
Massey: Le-Win 35 Forreston 32
Calpreps: Le-Win 31 Forreston 28