FREEPORT, Ill. (WIFR) – After playing their semifinal game against Forreston at Pretzel Stadium last Saturday, Lena-Winslow found themselves there once again as the Panthers prepared for their sixth state title since 2010.
“Can’t get much better than this,” Le-Win Head Coach Ric Arand said.
After a 9-0 record in the regular season, the Panthers have been nothing short of dominant, averaging over 53 points a game and keeping opponents under 11 points per game. The team feels ready after going through a season that saw four NUIC teams take the four 1A North Quarterfinal spots in this year’s playoffs.
“That was just awesome to have four (NUIC) teams in the (quarter)finals and the last four standing up here,” Arand said, “I think that’s why our conference has been so strong competing for state championships is because they are so playoff prepared throughout the season with who we play.”
Although the 13-0 start was never a guarantee as the team had to reload following a state title run in 2021.
“We lost nine guys on offense last year and seven or eight on defense or something like that and for these guys to have come out and perform like they have this year that really says something about them,” Arand said.
“We actually lost a lot of guys last year that were our leaders so seeing just the Seniors step up and fill the roles that they have and kind of keep the culture Rolling has been really impressive to see,” Le-Win Quarterback Drew Streckwald said .
The team is set up to continue Reloading though as the deep playoff runs help with the development of younger players.
“To be able to practice for 14 weeks instead of nine weeks, those add up really, I mean you’re getting five extra practices every year which is 20 extra practices every year which is a crazy amount, and you kind of get used to it,” Le-Win Safety Ayden Packard said.
The two players also said going to state as freshmen and juniors should help with the mental side of Friday’s game.
“Going there twice before it kind of mellows you out a little bit, you’re not as Shaky getting in the locker room, not as nervous in warm-ups so it’s definitely nice to have been there two other times,” Streckwald said.
“You know you go into a playoff game and the nerves, obviously you still have nerves, nerves are a great thing but you it kind of mellows a little bit, you get used to it a little more,” Packard said.
Now all that’s left for the Panthers to do is go out and finish their season strong.
“Enjoy it, because if you don’t sit back and enjoy it it’s over before you know it and when you step out on the field, have a lot of fun,” Arand said.
“This has been the dream since we were in seventh grade when we were first on a football team so to finally be here is just crazy,” Streckwald said.
Copyright 2022 WIFR. All rights reserved.