Maybe all that hype about the Mead Panthers is justified.
It certainly appeared that way in how they dealt with the pressure of the preseason buzz in whipping University 43-10 in a Greater Spokane League football game on Friday night.
“It was a little hard with everyone talking about it – seeing it in the papers all week,” Notre Dame recruit and Mead senior Danny Mattingly admitted. “We wanted to really show what we’re capable of.”
The visiting Panthers – unanimously picked to head the GSL class this season and ranked third in the state in the Tacoma News Tribune’s preseason rankings – did just that in routing the Titans.
“We felt really strong as a whole team,” said Mattingly, who returned an interception for a touchdown before he left the game in the second half with a leg cramp. “We definitely saw it as a test.”
To the surprise of nobody, they passed. The test, that is. They won the game on the ground with the help of 13 guys, led by Davian Barlow’s 14 carries for 111 yards and two touchdowns. Mead had a total of 323 rushing yards, while holding the Titans to 20 on 17 carries.
“That’s our style, definitely,” Mattingly said. “Run and gun.”
That run-and-gun offense was led by senior quarterback Gunnar Kayser, who rushed five times for 46 yards and carried in two for touchdowns. Kayser, also a defensive back, only threw the ball four times – completing two passes for 50 yards and a TD pass to Barlow.
Junior backup Matt Wetzel replaced Kayser late in the game, but only ran one incomplete pass play.
“This was a test to see how many plays Gunnar could go going both ways and how that would wear on him, if it did,” Mead coach Sean Carty said. “They both can play and that’s great for us.”
The Titans, led by first-year coach Rob Bartlett, who has seven players going both ways, got a solid enough performance from quarterback Jeff Beaty. Especially when you consider the senior’s inexperience at the position and the experience level of the defensive unit he was up against.
Beaty completed 11 of 16 passes for 108 yards, was picked off twice, and connected with sophomore receiver Andrew Morgan for a late 11-yard touchdown to go with U-Hi’s first-quarter field goal.
On the Panthers’ opening drive, the Titans’ defensive line looked as if it was primed to dispute the notion that Mead is a couple of steps ahead of the rest of the GSL. The Panthers barely mustered 6 yards in their first three downs before punting.
“They came out hot,” Carty said.
U-Hi worked its way into Mead’s red zone, highlighted by a 39-yard pass play to junior receiver Austin Flynn, but the Panthers’ defensive line quickly got stubborn and forced the Titans to settle for three points.
“We just ran into a buzz saw,” Bartlett said. “They’re a very mature team. It’s one of those things … we’re going to take some of the positives and build from it. We competed.”
From the way it looks, that’s as much as most teams in the league can hope for against this year’s Panthers.