LINCOLN (5-3) vs. O’GORMAN (6-2)
WHEN/WHERE: 7 p.m. Thursday at McEneaney Field
WATCH: Live stream on ArgusLeader.com
COACHES: Lincoln — Aaron Beavers (13th year with Patriots; 134-55); O’Gorman – Steve Kueter (33rd year with Knights; 286-91-1)
SEASON TO DATE: Sitting third in the rankings for much of the year, O’Gorman’s only losses have come against No. 1 Washington and No. 2 Roosevelt. The Knights were in both games in the first half before the Warriors and Riders pulled away. Over the past month, O’Gorman’s defense has stiffened up and allowed just 17 points in four games while scoring 175. Only Yankton (5-3) has a winning record out of the teams played in that stretch. After shaky defensive play in a shootout loss to Mitchell and a lopsided win over winless RC Central, Lincoln’s defense switched things up last week and successfully limited Brandon Valley. Combined, Lincoln and O’Gorman have lost just once in the past month — the Pats’ loss to the Kernels.
FAST TIMES: Strength of opponent has tended, naturally, to coincide with O’Gorman’s level explosiveness on offense this season. Regardless, the unit has been red hot of recent, and a lot of that has to do with the return of Boston Bauer. The senior tailback provides a fourth threat to run out of the backfield along with quarterback Luke Fritsch, fullback Dodi Makwinja and scatback Antonio Casiello. Receiver Jack Peery has six of the Knights’ nine touchdown receptions and averages nearly 22 yards a catch. Speed is the key to O’Gorman’s attack, and the Knights have a full compliment of standout players. Lincoln, by contrast, is rugged up front and does a lot of work by committee. Corey Fichter was the hero last week, but the Patriots offense has lacked a consistent playmaker outside of Lee Ransom. The senior wideout continues to be a threat to score despite double teams and made a crucial interception on defense against the Lynx last week.
WHAT TO EXPECT: Which Patriots team will we see? If its the team that struggled to corral the Cobblers a few weeks ago, it will be a long day. If its the team that slowed down the Lynx last Friday and saved its best for the fourth quarter, Lincoln has a good shot. The Patriots could be getting one of their best defensive backs, Kade Walker, back from injury. The same goes for standout tackle DeyShon Davis. For O’Gorman, a win could conceivably land a No. 2 seed for the Knights — though that’s unlikely. As they’ve done all season, the Knights will rely on speed because they don’t have the size to wear on teams. If the Patriots figure out a way to slow them down, they’ll join rare company. Only three teams — Brandon, Washington and Roosevelt — have held the Knights under 35 points.