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FAMILIAR ROADBLOCK: Former district rival Lancaster stands in Poteet's way in quest for state semifinals
Poteet knows the challenge that it faces on Friday is not an easy one.
The Pirates (11-2) take on Lancaster (12-1) in the Class 4A Division II Region II championship game at 7:30 p.m. at Allen's Eagle Stadium.
It is a Tiger team that is often referred to as among the most athletic and talented in the state, and more than once the opinion has been offered up that they are "impossible to beat when they are on their game."
But Poteet knows what it is up against better than most.
At a stage in the playoffs when most opponents come from across the state and have only been seen on film, that is not the case this week.
The Pirates and Tigers were district rivals for the previous four seasons and the last two meetings have been particularly compelling
Two years ago, Poteet edged Lancaster in a 28-24 victory that served as a springboard to its eventual run to the state semifinals. Last season, the Tigers returned the favor, edging the Pirates in a 20-19 win that proved to be the difference in knocking Poteet from the playoffs.
While teams are always different from one year to the next, there are still plenty of similarities in place.
"I think it always helps because it eliminates the 'always fear the unknown' side of it," Poteet head coach Randy Jackson said. "Our kids played them on JV and as freshmen, and the last two times (varsity) we have played, they have been two close games that have gone down to the wire.
"I think it is probably an advantage to both teams in that you line up facing a lot of kids you have seen before."
After breezing through the first two playoff games by a combined score of 98-28, but Pirates went down to the wire last week against Wylie East in a game that was not decided until Brett Rattan kicked a 31-yard field goal with 48 seconds left for a 52-49 victory.
Poteet is now one step away from matching its deepest playoff run in school history that it set two years ago, but Jackson said the team has remained focused on the task at hand, even if the level of attention builds every week.
"They don't really lose focus because we have a good group of senior kids who are driven and they help everybody stay within themselves," Jackson said. "When those guys were sophomores, they didn't play in the game, but they were in practice and they were around to see the amount of attention and they know not to believe the hype and to keep the goal in mind."
Poteet will see plenty of familiar faces on Friday, but one they did not see in last year's game is one they hope will not haunt them through the offseason.
Lancaster quarterback Demarcus Ayers missed last season's meeting and this year is the catalyst of one of the most explosive offenses in the area. The senior has thrown for 1,452 yards and 20 touchdowns while rushing for 1,179 yards and 14 scores. He has been steady in the playoffs, including last week's 36-29 win over Prosper.
Ayers and the dangerous Nick Harvey, who averages better than 12 yards per carry (54-659) and 15 yards per catch (46-697) have given opponents fits.
And if that is not enough, the Tigers have other playmakers that do not quite generate the same spotlight, such as Joseph Paden, who has rushed for 952 yards and 11 touchdowns, and Nick Alexander, who is averaging 19 yards per catch.
That will present a big challenge for the Poteet defense, which gave up a season-high in points last week.
The Pirates have excelled against the pass in the playoffs. Led by a stout secondary anchored by Patrick Brackens and Raffaele Gaines, postseason opponents are completing only 42 percent of their passes (30-of-71) and are averaging only 125 yards per game.
The front seven was hurt by the loss of sophomore linebacker Malik Jefferson last week and his status is uncertain. But whether they are at full strength or not, Poteet will need to improve after giving up nearly 400 rushing yards a week ago.
"They are a little more explosive than they have been the last times we've seen them," Jackson said. "They are athletic and fast and they are just a better team. They are another year older and they have another year under Coach Gilbert's system, so they have definitely improved."
Poteet has been clicking on all cylinders on offense, averaging 50 points per game in the playoffs.
Quarterback Tanner Ramsey has thrown for 691 yards and 11 touchdowns while adding five scores on the ground.
The explosive Rodney Douglas has been even more of a difference maker in the playoffs, averaging 30 yards per catch and accounting for seven touchdowns in three games.
The running back duo of James Swindle and Jaylon Smith has scored four times in the playoffs, while receivers Buck Rodges, Kody Edwards, Verkedric Vaughns, Nathaniel Gaines and Anthony Jenkins have all made big plays.
The teams have followed similar playoff roads, with each enjoying blowout wins in the first two rounds before being tested last week.
Both teams like to get off to good starts, as Poteet has outscored its opponents 98-34 in the first half, while Lancaster holds a 64-26 edge in the first two quarters.
For all the positives on both sides, it could come down to the negatives, namely turnovers.
The Pirates have a plus-31 turnover margin for the season, which is one of the best in the state. In the playoffs, they have turned the ball over only once while netting 11 takeaways.
Lancaster has had a little more of a problem with four turnovers, but also showed the ability to force problems for other teams, as it did in getting eight takeaways against Lovejoy.
And if the x-factor comes down to special teams, both sides have explosive returners and Rattan showed last week that Poteet is in good hands with the game on the line.
All of that adds up to what Jackson believes should be a memorable game.
"I have no reason not to believe it is not going to be like it was the last two times we played. I think both teams will probably be in the 20s and it is going to be the team that handles the pressure the best," he said. "It sounds simple to say, but it is going to be the team that can avoid the penalties and the turnovers will probably win and hopefully that will be us."