Normally a first round high school football playoff matchup between a No. 1 seed and a No. 16 seed is nothing more than a formality.
The winner is known before kickoff and the score is the only question.
However, Friday night at Ouachita Christian Stadium, the No. 1 vs. No. 16 in Division IV has a little bit of a different feel to it.
Yes. The Cedar Creek Cougars (6-3) will go into the game as the proverbial underdog against the undefeated Eagles (10-0). But don’t pencil in a winner on the bracket just yet.
“Our group has been pretty good,” said Creek head coach Matt Middleton. “I think we relish in being the underdog. That’s one thing this team has taken that personality on. They know outside of us no one expects us to win this game.
“We are the 16 seed facing a 1 seed. We do have some confidence. We have played with them. But you still have to go make it happen. I don’t worry about my guys being ready to play. They will be ready to play and they are excited about it.”
The two teams met way back on Sept. 25 in Ruston. And with less than two minutes remaining in the game, the Creek had OCS on the ropes. Leading 22-21, the Cougars backed the Eagles up on their own three-yard line with no timeouts remaining.
Creek was one play away from pulling off a huge upset. However, it was OCS that made the play.
A 97-yard TD pass from Landon Graves to Tristan Wiley on the first play from scrimmage following the punt ultimately led OCS to a 33-21 win (the Eagles returned an interception for a score in the final minute as well).
“I think the biggest thing for us (in the first meeting) we established the run early, and we were just able to run the football,” said Middleton. “We were kind of like a nat. We just kind of hung around. They got up 21-7 and came out in the second half and tried an onside kick and we got it. We took the next play to the house. We just kind of hung around and defensively we made some plays. We had our chances to win it.
“Obviously, they have made some personnel changes since then. They are a better football team. I think we are to. It’s one of those things where we are not going to surprise them. We are not going to sneak up on them. They are electric right now. They are undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the state right now for a reason.”
Creek has been stellar since the loss, winning five of its last six games including a 13-9 upset over No. 4 ranked Oak Grove a few weeks ago. The Cougars have relied on a defense that has surrendered less than 11 points a game this year thanks the likes of Quincy Lewis, Carson Riley and Lawson Lillo. The Creek offense has improved behind the play of quarterback Caden Middleton and running backs Jed Worthey, Bryce Rushing and AJ Thomas.
However, Middleton knows the type of weapons OCS has on both sides of the football.
“Their quarterback is phenomenal,” said Middleton. “Landon Graves. He has thrown for … good gosh … I don’t know how many yards and touchdowns. (Wide receiver) Tristan Wiley is unbelievable. Going into last week he had like 40 catches for close to 1,200 yards. It’s just crazy. Great players. They know how to get the ball out. They are going to throw it around. That’s what they want to do.
“They are going to try to pressure us offensively. Bring some guys off the edge and create some havoc and some movement. Bottom line is we have to withstand the storm. We are expecting some trick plays. That’s one of the things they do.”
A capacity crowd is expected for the contest with the winner advancing to a second-round match-up against the winner of No. 8 Ascension Catholic and No. 9 Central Catholic.
“We have to withstand the storm,” said Middleton. “They will try to get up on you quick and bury you and get your reeling. We have to hold tight, stay within our game and hopefully stay around until the fourth quarter.”
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. The contest can be heard on 101.9 FM with Kevin Bayles and David Cole providing the call of the action.
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