Whitley County and Southwestern always seem to find one another in the postseason.
For the sixth time since the 2010 season, the Whitley County Colonels and the Southwestern Warriors will go head-to-head in the state playoffs.
These two teams met in the district title game a year ago, but tonight, the No. 2 seeded Warriors will host the No. 3 seeded Colonels in the opening round of the KHSAA Class 5A State Playoffs. Jason Foley and company have won their last two games over the Colonels, and they will look to make it three victories in a row this evening at the Reservation.
The Colonels and the Warriors have already played once this season, making tonight their second meeting this year. Southwestern won the game by a final tally of 27-6, but that game was much, much closer than the final score indicated.
After a scoreless first half of action, Southwestern grabbed a 7-0 lead in the third quarter before Whitley County cut the score to 7-6 on the first play of the fourth period. The Warriors would then reel off 20 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, allowing them to leave Williamsburg with a 27-6 triumph over the Colonels.
What does that earlier season match-up mean now? Absolutely nothing. It's time for playoff football, and it's "win or go home" time for Southwestern.
Foley, who is in his second season as the head coach at Southwestern, feels that his team learned some things from the game last month, but he knows that the Colonels are much improved since that matchup. Southwestern will need to be prepared for another physical ballgame, according to Foley.
"The first matchup was a tough, physical ball game," Foley said. "We saw things after game one that we know we must improve on, but we also have a lot of respect for Whitley County and know that we have to play very well to come out with a win. It will be a battle early, and we must be on our A-game in all phases. They are a team that has gotten better and better all season."
Southwestern will bring an 8-1 mark into the postseason, while Whitley County stands at 2-5 overall. As far as both of the head coaches are concerned, the record is 0-0.
Since losing to the Warriors, Whitley County won two of their final three contests of the 2020 season. After starting the season out with a record of 0-4, the Colonels blew out South Laurel and North Laurel prior to a close loss at Hazard.
The Warriors come into the ballgame having won eight of their nine regular-season games. Southwestern began the year with seven straight wins before falling to Pulaski County. The Warriors ended the season with a win at Bullitt Central prior to the KHSAA pushing the postseason back a week to give teams inside a 14-day quarantine window an opportunity to compete.
Foley felt like the extra week to prepare for the playoffs gave his Warrior squad a chance to rest and recover after nine consecutive weeks of hard-fought games.
"The extra week has been good for our team in getting healthy and rested after a tough nine-game schedule," Foley stated. "I think our guys have benefitted from the off week. We have played some good competition that I feel has prepared us for playoff football."
Southwestern has been extremely fortunate to have been able to play all nine of their regular-season games in 2020. Many teams throughout the Bluegrass State have not been as lucky, and Foley understands that. For the Warriors, the opportunity to suit up on Friday nights has been a blessing.
"We are excited to have the opportunity to play into the postseason," said Foley. "This has been a unique year, and we certainly are appreciative of every Friday night that we get to play under those lights. There is no feeling like it. I feel like our team is in a good place both physically and mentally. We are trending in the right direction and have a lot of confidence in our ability to play our best football going forward at the most important time."
Offensively, Southwestern's offense has improved tremendously in the passing game since their season-opening game in mid-September. Chanler Crabtree is averaging nearly 100 passing yards per game, and he has gotten better each time out at QB1.
The Warriors' three-headed running back monster of Tanner Wright, Connor Crisp, and Giddeon Brainard has provided headaches for opposing defenses this season. Wright leads the team in rushing with 1,135 yards, Brainard has a team-high 14 touchdowns, and Crisp is averaging over seven yards per rushing attempt.
Defense wins championships, and the Southwestern defense could play a pivotal role in the Warriors' run at a district title. The Warrior defense has made several key plays to win some big games this season, but they will need that same type of effort in the playoffs.
Southwestern has won five straight playoff meetings versus Whitley County, so a victory this evening would make it six in a row for the Warriors. More importantly, a win would allow Southwestern to play a district title next week against the winner of the Pulaski County (No. 1)-North Laurel (No. 4) contest.
This evening's contest is set to get underway at 7:30 p.m. at the Reservation. The game can be both watched and heard live on lakecumberlandsports.com.
Follow Michael Childers on Twitter -- @MChilders_22