December 12, 2013

Lions seek second title trip in return to playoffs

Adam Troxtell
The Express-Star


Like an ancient relic found frozen in the thawing Oklahoma ice, Blanchard's semifinal match up with Plainview is precious.

The build up to what's poised to be an epic battle has been delayed by winter's icy grip, and it now must be handled with extra care as both teams come off a bye week neither thought they would have. While the date has changed, the goal remains the same for a Lions team that has been here before.

"This year, we know what's coming," head coach Jeff Craig said of his team's second state semifinal trip in two years. "But, it all boils down to the same thing. It looks like this is going to be our biggest challenge."

Relatively speaking, this postseason has been a cakewalk for the Lions up to this point. They've only let up 26 points while scoring a combined 159, and a lot of that has come from Braden Stringer and a running game that has steadily improved, if that was even possible.

"In the first couple of games, we were just getting used to it and everyone was just getting in the motion," quarterback Blake Owen said. "These last couple of games, we've been clicking. It's easy to run behind that big line."

It seems like an eternity since Stringer put up over 300 yards and six touchdowns against Lincoln Christian in the last round, but there's little chance Plainview have forgotten.

"Staying engaged in our blocks is pivotal to us moving the football," Craig said. "They get a lot of guys to the ball."

The most points the Indians gave up in a single game this season was 14, and it happened twice: once against Lone Grove and once against Tuttle. As the player that will most likely receive the lion's share of Plainview's attention, Stringer said he has faith in the experienced offensive line to open up the field.

"We return four of our five linemen from last year, so they've got great experience," Stringer said. "This isn't something they haven't seen before. Like last year and all this season, they'll open up the holes for me and Blake [Owen] to run."

It will certainly be the ultimate test all around, and that includes for Blanchard on defense. Quarterback Taber Jordan and running backs Austin Carrera and Jordan Rickets split time running in a difficult to stop power option.

"Our job is to limit their choices and get multiple guys in on the tackle," Craig said. "They do a good job of getting yards after they're hit. We've got to limit it to a three-yard gain and not let it turn into five yards or eight yards. If they put enough of those together, the first downs start to pile up."

So far Blanchard's second ride this deep in the playoffs has appeared easier than their first, putting the idea that it's harder to win a second championship to shame. This matchup could be the gut check both teams need on their respective paths to a title, and Stringer said the Lions' previous experience should serve them well in this semifinal.

"We lost about five guys on offense from last year, but we seem to have replaced the guys we did lose pretty well," Stringer said. "We all worked harder, got closer; really becoming a team and working harder in the offseason is what's pushed us over this year."