Pride on the line for Panthers in title clash

Snohomish looks for much better effort against Sehome than it gave last season


Herald Writer

SNOHOMISH — A year ago, this game meant everything to Sehome and nothing to Snohomish.

And boy, did it look that way.

The Panthers, who had suffered close losses to Kamiak and Cascade late in the 1999 season, sleepwalked in the final game of that year, and were embarrassed 42-7 by Sehome, which completed its 9-0 regular season with the blowout.

This year is different.

Both teams are undefeated in Western Conference 4A play, and the league championship will be determined tonight at Snohomish’s Veterans Memorial Stadium. Snohomish quarterback Josh Rodland believes the real Panthers will stand up.

"Last year’s game … we don’t like to think about that one," Rodland said. "We know that the circumstances were completely different. We’re playing for it all, instead of last year, when we played for not a whole lot."

A bitter, broken bus load of Panthers traveled to Bellingham for the last game of the 1999 season. They knew they were good, but they also knew they were done. They were a couple of plays away from being playoff bound. Only a fourth-down quarterback sneak by Kamiak in overtime and a come-from-behind Cascade victory in the final moments a week later separated Snohomish from extending its season. That’s if you forget about the Sehome bloodletting.

Both the winner and loser of tonight’s game will be in the postseason. The loser will play a bi-district playoff game against the No. 3 team from the Kingco 4A on Tuesday. The winner will play a state playoff game Nov. 10 or 11.

This season, the Panthers haven’t been tested. Sure, they’ve played all the top teams — Kamiak, Edmonds-Woodway and Cascade — but none of the outcomes have been in doubt. Snohomish has used a combination of big-play offense and attacking defense to outscore its opponents 278-72.

"They’ve had a lot of big plays on their drives," Sehome coach Jamie Plenkovich said. "We have to make them work for everything they get. They’re going to be tough."

Speaking of working for what one gets, many people around Wesco 4A football feel that Sehome hasn’t had to do just that.

Due to a glitch in the random-draw schedule, the Mariners avoided Kamiak and Cascade in each of the last two years. Sehome played Edmonds-Woodway in the first game of the season, before the Warriors realized they had a good team of their own. Snohomish avoided potential cake walks against 4-4 Shorewood and 0-8 Shorecrest.

But you won’t hear any schedule talk coming from the Panthers.

"(Assistant coach) Keith Gilbertson, Sr. has done a great job of making our kids realize that the most important game of the season is the next one," Snohomish coach Mark Perry said. "And Sehome is the next one."

This year, both teams have something to prove. Snohomish wants to show everyone that it’s back on top like it was in the 1970s and ’80s. The Mariners, who lost a non-league game to 7-1 Tahoma last week, want to beat a big-time opponent.

"Losing to Tahoma has got to serve as a wakeup call," said Plenkovich, who is in his first season as head coach at his alma mater. "We have to make sure we’re not coasting and thinking we’re pretty good when we get up against these good teams."

The Mariners will try to wear out Snohomish with offensive and defensive lines that are the size of many found in college football. Although the Panthers will give up about 50 pounds per guy along the front, they hope to be quicker than the Mariners.

Both teams have run the ball effectively this year. Sehome’s Mike McEvoy is second in the league in rushing yards with 1,140. Snohomish has used the inside-outside combination of Tim Lockhart and Joe Plucker, and have beaten teams deep with the passing game when the duo draws too much defensive attention.

Plucker has carried the ball only 58 times this season, but is still the league’s fourth-leading rusher with 635 yards. The senior averages 10.9 yards per carry. The top three backs have carried 163, 164 and 107 times this season.

"To be honest, he has surprised me," said Rodland, who has thrown for 708 yards and nine touchdowns. "He wasn’t even a starter in game one, but he has stepped it up and proven himself. It’s fun to hand the ball off to him and watch him run."

The game might be decided by which team runs the ball best, turns it over the least or even by a trick play.

Both sides like having the conference championship decided in the regular season’s final week.

"We’ve done what we needed to do to get to this point," Plenkovich said. "If you can’t get excited about this game, then you probably shouldn’t be playing."

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