Times Sports Editor
High school football teams around the state begin their quest for a state championship Friday night with the opening round of sectional playoffs kicking off.
The Northview Knights are no different and make the long road trip south to take on Evansville Reitz.
If the Knights were looking for a stout test, the Panthers will certainly provide them with that, coming in ranked ninth in Class 4A and are the defending state champions.
"(Evansville) is playing with a lot of confidence," said coach George Gettle. "They are one of the oldest football playing schools in the state. They've got a lot of tradition."
The Panthers didn't fall off much following a championship last year, coming in at 8-1 and unbeaten in the state of Indiana. The lone team to beat Reitz was Owensboro, a prep team from Kentucky that scored an 18-14 victory.
Following the graduation of 2007 Indiana Mr. Football, quarterback Paul McIntosh, the Panthers kept the job in the family.
Sophomore Matt McIntosh has taken over the signal calling duties and has done an admirable job, running for 767 yards and 11 touchdowns while throwing for another 778 yards, seven TD's with six interceptions.
"Their quarterback is very good," mentioned Gettle. "He's from a football family and he's been groomed to step in."
A third McIntosh, Ryan, is a senior and plays wide receiver where he's caught 20 passes for 255 yards. At 6'3, he provides an enticing target that will be difficult to defend for the Knights. Jeffrey Hudson has been the top target with 25 catches this year.
At running back, Alordo Bell is the main ball carrier outside of McIntosh and has scored nine times while rushing for 744 yards and 8.2 yards per carry.
"The Bell kid averages about 90 yards per game," said Gettle. "Between him and the quarterback they are averaging about 170 yards per game. But the running back is a big-time playmaker."
The linemen up front are a big reason for the success of both the backs and their size is pretty impressive.
The offensive line is comprised primarily of juniors and seniors with extraordinary size for a prep team.
The offensive line might make some small colleges jealous as Max Carnahan is 6'4, 295, Jordan Daniel is 6'3, 305, Mike Clem is 6'4, 350 and Josh Lefler is 6'0, 250. On the defensive side, Markell Snoddy is 6'2, 370, Stephan Mullen is 6'2, 267 and Shane Woodget is 6'3, 205. Tony Ewers, at 6'3, 210, leads the team with nine sacks this year.
"They are pretty large," admitted Gettle. "The good thing is that they don't all play on the side of the ball. But it's a reason they are so good at running the football."
The Panthers are predominantly a running team that is adept at running the option and do so out of many formations.
The Panthers have outgained opponents 3,002 to 1,737 on the season with more than 2,200 of those yards coming on the ground. On defense, the Panthers have only allowed 833 rushing yards.
Northview is going to need its best game of the season to play with the Panthers. The Knights are countering with its own dual threat quarterback as Trent Lancaster is coming off a game in which he ran for 128 yards and threw for another 188 and a combined four scores.
The Knights have had trouble protecting Lancaster at times this season and if they are going to have any success at all on Friday night Northview will need to limit the Panthers' pressure.
"Obviously our goal is to be playing our best football of the season in week 10," Gettle pointed out. "The kids have to play focused football. We'll know pretty quickly where we stand. We're going to have to play awfully good. (Reitz) is too good and they'll take advantage of any mistakes."
Maintaining offensive balance remains the key to success for the Knights. If Reitz is able to shut down one portion of the Knights' offense than it could be a very long night. On defense, the Knights need to keep big plays to a minimum and will likely have to force some turnovers and gain a short field.
With weather reports calling for rain, the ground game might be the key factor in the game.
Kickoff is at 7 p.m. central time at the Reitz Bowl in Evansville.