By JUSTIN RAINS
The task that stands before the Palestine football team as it prepares to open up the Class 3A, Division I football playoffs is a large one.
By nothing more than a little bad luck and geographical location, the Wildcats (7-3) take on state-ranked Carthage (8-2) in the first round of the playoffs.
Palestine and Bulldogs square-off at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Lufkin’s Abe Martin Stadium (309 South Medford Dr., Lufkin, Texas 75902).
The Bulldogs are a team that has won three state titles under current coach Scott Surratt, most recently in 2010.
PHS coach Lance Angel knows his team is an underdog, but he contends that means no pressure.
“All week in practice, our kids are fired up and confident,” Angel said. “It’s the way you want your kids to be. We’ve got a shot to go in and make some noise in the playoffs. We respect everything Carthage has done, but we’re going to go out and play a great game. That’s all you can ask of the kids.”
It certainly won’t be easy.
The Bulldogs have won five-straight games and their only two losses came to Class 4A playoff schools Jacksonville and Whitehouse.
Both Jacksonville and Whitehouse both have something else in common: An offense that likes to throw the football. That’s not Palestine’s identity, and Angel said it’s not going to magically be this week either.
“We didn’t sit down this past weekend and try and draw up and bunch of different plays,” he said. “We’re going to do what we do, go out there and try and execute and keep it simple for our kids so they can relax and not be worried about making mistakes, just go out there and play.”
So far, it’s worked for Palestine. The Wildcats average over 37 points and 370 yards per game. Of those 370 yards, around 270 of them are on the ground.
That being said, sophomore quarterback Gee Clark has shown the ability to throw the ball when he has to.
He showed that Friday in Palestine’s 60-59 overtime loss to Fairfield, completing two long touchdown passes to Paul Barksdale as well as converting a 4th-and-23 with a pass to Barksdale in the fourth quarter.
“I think he grew up a lot Friday,” Angel said of his quarterback. “”When he had to step up and make throws, he made throws and made some big ones in that fourth quarter.
“Obviously, we’re going to try and build off that and just out there offensively and...we believe and I think Gee believes that when he’s got to make throws, he can do it.”
On offense, Carthage is about as effectively balanced as they come. The Bulldogs average just over 400 yards and almost 43 points per game, with 225 of those yards coming through the air and 178 of them coming on the ground.
The team boasts a 1,000-yard rusher in Tevin Pipkin (1,086 yards, 9 TDs) and a 1,000-yard receiver in Tee Goree (1,026 yards, 14 TDs).
Getting them both the ball is junior quarterback Blake Bogenschutz, who has thrown for more than 2,100 yards and has 30 touchdowns against only five interceptions.
Angel acknowledged that it’s a passing offense unlike anything the Wildcats have seen this year.
“We just have to step up, make plays, create some turnovers and get some stops and just understand that they’re a great football team and their going to make plays,” Angel said. “When they do, we just have to line up and get ready for the next one.”
The line about “getting stops” is one Angel keeps coming back to this week. He said he thinks his team will be able to move the football against Carthage, and the key will be if his defense can make the plays they know they need to make.
“We’ve got to get some stops,” he said. “We’ve got to either create turnovers or force them to punt.”