By Ray Hamill — One of the things that can catch teams down south off guard when they play schools from Humboldt and Del Norte counties in the NCS football playoffs is how physical the teams here are.
And that’s something the McKinleyville Panthers hope to take advantage of when they open the Division-7 playoffs at St. Helena on Friday night.
The Panthers (5-5) are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2014 and are seeded No. 7, while the Saints are seeded No. 2 and are riding a six-game winning streak.
And both teams like to run the ball.
“They’re a big run team like us,” McKinleyville head coach Del Barlow said. “They run the veer a lot and they’re not real pass heavy. It should be a good one between two run-heavy teams.”
The key for the Panthers is to establish their physicality in the trenches and control the clock with long time-consuming drives.
“That’s the first thing,” Barlow said. “If we win the toss, we’re taking the ball. That’s a big part of this game. We want to keep the ball out of their hands.”
Another key will be the mental game, and Barlow and his coaches have stressed the importance of playing sound football and limiting mental mistakes to their players all season long.
The players responded with a clean game last week in a victory at Ferndale, which solidified their playoff spot, and they will need more of the same on Friday.
“It’s a whole new team right now,” Barlow said. “Mentally, physically and psychologically.”
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.