Panthers face explosive Xavier in first round

by Greg Ceilley of The Review staff

PLYMOUTH – The Plymouth Panthers will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing loss to Kewaskum last week when they begin the Division 3 state football playoffs Friday night but they will face a tall task.

PHS, a No. 8 region seed, will play at No. 1-seeded Appleton Xavierwitha7p.m.kickoff. The Panthers come into the game with a 5-4 record while the Hawks are flying high with a 9-0 mark and a No. 2 ranking in the coaches D-3 poll.

“They have many athletes on the field. Usually you can mark a guy or two to concentrate on but they have good players all over the place,” said Panther head coach Dan Knaus.

“They are bigger then we are, and look very fast on film. And they are much deeper.”

Knaus explained what his team’s mindset is for the game, coming off a 38-0 rout at Kewaskum Friday night in which the Panthers came out flat and didn’t match the Indians’ physical play.

“It’s a new season and the coaches are reminding the players it’s a fresh beginning for everyone – records are out, win or go home,” Knaus said.

He thinks being the underdogs can work to the Panthers’ favor.

“We want to get off to a good start, so that they play tighter the longer we hang with them,” said Knaus.

The coach pointed out the keys for his team to have a shot at pulling off an upset:

“Playing a clean game with limited mistakes, create some turnovers and play more physical.”

The Hawks, the Bay Conference champions, have a very explosive offense, led by 6-1, 200-pound senior quarterback Zach Simons. Simons is a dual threat, enjoying an outstanding season passing and running. He has thrown for 1,580 yards and 20 touchdowns and is Xavier’s top rusher with 829 yards and 14 TDs.

“He [Simons] is a big physical kid that can throw it or run you over. They will use a quick screen game and power running game to compliment the passing game,” Knaus pointed out.

Xavier’s top receiver is senior wideout Noah Severin who has 28 catches for 449 yards – both team highs. Senior wide receiver Sam Burkart has a team-best 10 TD receptions.

The Hawks’ spread offense is averaging an impressive 35.6 points per game, compared with Plymouth’s 27.0.

The Panthers’ ground game is led by senior tailback Samuel Staehling who has rushed for a team-high 1,013 yards and 17 TDs. PHS junior quarterback Gavin Falk has passed for 833 yards and three TDs.

Plymouth’s leading receiver is Staehling with 24 receptions for 237 yards. Junior wide receiver Cody Kuhn has a teambest 261 receiving yardage on 17 catches.

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