When you are talking about rivalries over the past 17 years, there isn't a whole lot that get much better than Forreston and Lena-Winslow. Looking at the past 8 years it gets even better as these two teams have been the most powerful in that stretch of time. All you have to do is look at the stats and you will see these two teams pop up time and time again. They have combined for 11 quarterfinal trips, 6 semifinal trips, and 5 state championships since 2010. Each team has had to go through each other in the playoffs to win 4 of their combined 5 state titles, with Lena-Winslow winning in 2010, 2013, and 2017, while Forreston's win came in their 2016 title campaign.
This year's contest is different, as both teams lost significant amounts of talent off last season's team's, but they both find themselves still ranked in the top 5 of the state rankings in Class 1A. The Panthers enter with the #1 ranking, returning 4 starters, while Forreston enters with the #5 state ranking while returning 3 starters from a season ago. On paper it appears that Le-Win is loaded, as 3 of those returners put together one of the best defensive lines in the state with Parker Magee, Ian Kuehl, and Isaiah Bruce. The Cards return key parts of their backfield with Garett Badertscher, Evan Kelsey, and Ethan Mulder, and also bring back All-Conference lineman Mitchell Heinz.
Lena-Winslow knows how important it is to stick to the basics. We asked Coach Arand if he changes anything defensively, and he simply said, "No we wont change anything from what we have done in the past. Our defense is dependent on everyone doing their job. When we do we have been pretty successful, and when we have not we are not very good." It is the Panthers defense that has been the catalyst in so many games in their past, and with it comes the simple task of keying your reads and playing your gaps, staying home to make plays.
The Cards struggled offensively to get points on the board early in their week 1 contest with Du-Pec, but their defense also led a great charge holding the Rivermen to just 102 yards of total offense, before closing the door in the 4th quarter under new Head Coach Kyle Zick. The Cards stuck to what has worked for them, playing Forreston football, attacking the ball on defense, and running their misdirection offense behind new QB Bailey Cullor. The play of Cullor last week was really good, as he looked like a veteran leader and hid the ball very well, which is key when you are running a multiple option offense with traps, dives, and leads.
One of the matchups the Cards will need to focus on is how the Panthers utilize Isaiah Bruce in their offense. Last year he played TE primarily, but this year Coach Arand has shifted him to the backfield, but will also utilize him in different positions as he poses a big threat in their offense. Coach Arand stated they have many options, "We think that we have a handful of running backs who can be pretty effective. Isaiah will spend a lot of time at different positions this year to best utilize his talents and running back will have to be one of them." With the many different weapons Le-Win has, line play will be critical as always, with both teams needing to win the line battle for either of their offensive rushing attacks to be successful.
This game will also shed some light on a lot of questions. Is Le-Win capable of living up to their ranking, and the expectations of so many around the state who see the Panthers as a state title threat once again? How far of a drop off did Forreston take, or is it just another season with the development of more options for the Cards leading them? One thing is for sure, come Friday night both of these teams will be ready to go, looking to etch their names into the history of this 2 decade old rivalry.