By Ray Hamill — Just six days after posting their first win of the season, the McKinleyville Panthers will try to make it two in a row with a rare Thursday night matchup at Elsie Allen.
The game will be the fourth straight on the road for the Panthers, who were forced to play away from home early in the season after scheduling work on their field, which never materialized.
But that doesn’t seem to be bothering the Panthers, who are feeling a little more optimistic this week after the breakthrough victory at San Rafael over the weekend.
Panthers get first win at San Rafael – Team defense again led the way for the Panthers on Friday night, as they secured their first win of the season.
It’s also the second straight short week of preparation for the Panthers, who only scheduled the San Rafael game on Tuesday of last week in what was supposed to be a bye week.
“I think we’ll be okay,” head coach Keoki Burbank said. “It’ll be a little different for the players on Friday morning getting to school after getting home late, but we did a good job last week adjusting on the fly, and I think we’ll be fine this week.”
The good news is they’ll be playing a familiar offense at Elsie Allen.
“It’s another spread offense,” Burbank said. “So that gives us three spread teams in a row, and so we’re just trying to refine what we’ve been doing.”
The confidence won’t be lacking for the Mack players after last week’s big win and the consistent play on the defensive side of the ball all season.
The Lobos have struggled in recent times, losing their past nine games, including their season opener last weekend at St. Vincent de Paul by a score of 48-6.
Elsie Allen has won just one of its past 36 games.
The Panthers also lost to St. Vincent de Paul in their season opener by a score of 18-0.
One of the keys for McKinleyville in Friday’s win was the play of the defense, with the reliable Kyler Carr again leading the way at linebacker.
Just as impressive, however, was the play of junior defensive back Jack Patton, who has become the team’s shutdown corner.
Patton was credited with an outstanding job of marking San Rafael’s chief receiving threat a week ago and held him in check throughout.
“He only gave up one completion and that was late in the fourth quarter,” Burbank said of the junior standout. “And he was definitely targeted multiple times. He did a great job defensively.”
Patton will be asked to play the same role this week against a team that relies heavily on one star receiver.
On the offensive side of the ball, senior Kameron Conlin’s role has become more clear and the Panthers seem to be benefitting from it.
Conlin is part of a potent one-two punch in the backfield, along with junior Caleb Martinez.
Between them, they have racked up 554 of the team’s 600 yards on the ground this year.
Both, however, have different styles and rely on that combination to be effective.
“Kameron really had a good game (at San Rafael).” Burbank said. “He’s kind of been looking to be that home run hitter, and that’s not his role on the team. He’s got to be the grinder, he’s got to be the guy that gets that tough four yards for us, and I think he understands that now.”
Cleaning up mistakes
Four weeks into the season, Burbank and his coaching staff are looking to see their players clean up the lingering mistakes that have hurt the team through the early going.
“I want us to get another win, but I also want us to cut down on the penalties,” the head coach said of this week’s game. “We had zero fumbles last week, but we did throw one interception, and I’d like us to be a zero turnover team, and to cut back on penalties.”
Special teams was also a problem last week, with four missed PATs and a punt returned for a TD.
“I definitely want us to be better in that third phase of the game,” Burbank said.
The Panthers welcomed back a pair of players from injury this week — junior Running backs/linebackers Kaden Redner and Christian Amato — giving them more depth and options.
Thursday’s game is set for 7 p.m.