The Mead Panthers are essentially playing for their football postseason lives Thursday.
While the Panthers wouldn’t mathematically be eliminated with a loss, their hopes would be dealt a big blow considering an early loss to co-league leader Central Valley (5-1, 2-0).
Standing in the way for Mead (4-2, 1-1) is a showdown with reigning 4A state champion Gonzaga Prep (4-2, 2-0). They collide in the second game of a doubleheader at Albi Stadium. Kickoff is at 7:15.
Both Mead and G-Prep are riding momentum. The Panthers have run off three wins after back-to-back losses to Coeur d’Alene and CV. The Bullpups are on a four-game streak after back-to-back losses to Eastside Catholic and Skyline.
Mead coach Benji Sonnichsen doesn’t have to be told the gravity of things.
“The season is on the line,” Sonnichsen said.
Mead has G-Prep’s full attention.
“It’s a big game regardless,” G-Prep coach Dave McKenna said. “We only get two teams (to postseason). There’s no room for error for anybody.”
Mead has thrived behind quarterback Payton Loucks and a bevy of talented receivers. The Panthers’ offensive line faces a stiff test against the Bullpups’ active front and linebackers.
The Panthers’ difficulties at times have come on defense. They’ll face a veer option that forces teams to honor the run. And the Bullpups have the ability to go over the top to receivers Devin Culp and Sam Lockett, who possess big-play capability.
“They have weapons everywhere,” Sonnichsen said. “They’re good enough at their stuff to make you defend the whole field.”
McKenna’s thoughts about Mead’s offense sounds similar to what Sonnichsen says about G-Prep.
“They get their athletes the ball in space,” McKenna said. “They have a great scheme and can spread the field on you.”
Sonnichsen said his defense must make stops.
“They’re the defending state champs,” he said. “Some special things have to happen for us.”
The GSL statistics back up the fact that G-Prep has the top defense and Mead the fourth worst defense. Mead ranks No. 1 in offense and the Bullpups are second.
In the opener Thursday, Univeristy (2-4, 0-2) meets Ferris (2-4, 0-2).
The 3A teams open league play Friday at Albi. Mt. Spokane (1-5) and North Central (1-5) meet in the opener followed by Shadle Park (3-3) and Rogers (0-6).
Also Friday, Lewis and Clark (3-3, 1-1) visits CV in a 4A matchup.
The Northeast 2B title could be decided Friday when Northwest Christian (6-0) visits Liberty (6-0).
Both teams have the ability to score points in bunches and they’ve also been stingy on defense. Judging by Liberty’s triple overtime 22-20 win earlier at Asotin (5-1), the game likely will be a defensive slugfest.
So what will Coeur d’Alene and Lewiston do for an encore after the Bengals topped the Vikings 55-51 in a donnybrook last week?
The Bengals (7-0, 1-0) are on the road at Post Falls (6-1, 1-0) while CdA (3-3, 0-1) is at home against Lake City (3-4, 0-1) in 5A Inland Empire League action.
Lewiston and CdA are heavily favored.
Lakeland (4-3, 1-0) rallied for a big road victory at Moscow, prevailing 28-21 in overtime last week in a 4A IEL opener.
Next up is Sandpoint (3-4), which makes the trip to Rathdrum on Friday. A win gives Lakeland the league’s top berth to the state playoffs.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.