The Panthers had been peaking as of late, winning four-straight games – including a 41-21 decision two weeks ago over Central-Carroll to claim the No. 2 seed in Region 4-AAA and the right to host a playoff game for the first time since 2008 – only to lose their regular season finale 22-14 at Jackson-Atlanta last Friday.
Tonight, the Panthers will look to regain that momentum when they host the Johnson-Savannah Atomsmashers at Panther Stadium at 7:30 p.m. in the first round of the Class AAA playoffs.
“There’s only 16 AAA teams in the state that are hosting a game this week,” Pastrick said. “We’re one of them. That’s a big deal. I’m proud of them for that. They’re proud of themselves, but they’re not satisfied. They want to do more.”
To win and make it to Round 2, Chapel Hill (6-4) will have to get past a Johnson team that’s also peaking at the right time. The Atomsmashers (4-6) started the year 1-6, but won their final three games to earn the No. 3 seed in Region 1-AAA.
Johnson knocked off Tattnall County 34-14 last week to take third place in the region. Senior linebacker Aaron Walker had four sacks and an interception to keep Tattnall’s offense off-balance, and senior quarterback Shyheim Roberts rushed for two touchdowns and threw for another to finish off Johnson’s late-season comeback.
Roberts has rushed for 647 yards and nine TDs and thrown for another 786 yards and four scores. Roberts is surrounded by athletic players who can go the distance including tailback Corbin Mitchell and receivers Korey Clarke and Darrell Myers.
“They’re a good football team and they’re picking up steam at the end of the football season,” said Pastrick. “They’re peaking at the right time. When you get a team with that many athletes, and they’re peaking right now, it’s dangerous.”
Looking at his own team, Pastrick said the intensity he had seen all season wasn’t there last week against Jackson. Since it was a 5:30 p.m. game, the Panthers came back to the school, went into the team meeting room and the coaching staff challenged the players.
“I’m pretty confident, just looking at their eyes Friday night, they understood,” Pastrick said. “They knew they didn’t play very well, they knew they didn’t play very hard and they were upset with themselves more than anything.”
Practice this week has been upbeat and Pastrick hopes the intensity level will be back at the levels it was at during the Panthers’ winning streak.
While tailback Tre Mitchell continues to be the main offensive threat, Pastrick has seen receivers John Chester-Owens, M.J. Rookard and Tre Owens step up catching passes from quarterback Brett Roberts.
On the other side of the ball, defensive end Daryl George is back after missing several games with an injury. Rico Flemister moved from receiver to cornerback and has been a big addition to the Panthers’ defense. Linebacker Marquise Bedford leads the team in tackles and will be counted on to lead tonight.
“It’s definitely going to be a big challenge for us,” said Pastrick. “I think we’re going to play well. That’s what it’s going to come down to is us just getting back to playing like we can play, limit turnovers and limit penalties and just see what happens.”