MADISONVILLE – New year, same face for the Palestine Wildcats as they begin their 2020 playoff journey.
The Wildcats are locked into a 2019 playoff rematch against the Huffman Hargrave Falcons. The Wildcats handed the Falcons their first loss of that season in a close 19-14 victory.
Huffman isn't undefeated in 2020 with their only loss coming in the district championship game against Livingston last Friday.
While the Falcons were sorting out their playoff positioning, Palestine enjoyed a needed bye week.
“Originally, when I first saw the schedule I didn't like the bye week being our last week,” head coach Lance Angel said. “It's a grind. You sensed it in our kids around week eight or nine of not having that break. It's rough. But now that you get to this point it was good to have.”
The Wildcats prepare for the bi-district round with a different mentality than last year. Playoffs turned from a dream to now an expectation as the team comes off of its deepest playoff run since 2004.
“To become a great program it's got to be more than just getting in the playoffs now,” Angel said. “It's not a surprise. It's a great accomplishment, but it means a lot more if you can win a couple of playoff games. I sense our kids feel that. They're not just happy to be there.”
With many of their skill positions being first-time playoff starters, Palestine will lean on the experience of their offensive and defensive lines.
It's an offensive line that has helped produce a 1,3000-yard back in Jakaryon Conley and 2,200 rushing yards as a team.
And a defensive line that has recorded 41 total sacks and 26 tackles for loss.
“We feel like our defensive line will always be an advantage in a matchup,” Angel said. “We have so many young men who can roll in. It's not just our starting three it's our rotation that keeps everyone fresh.”
On Huffman's side, this won't be an entirely familiar lineup as the one who took the field last year. The Falcons lost 26 players to graduation and only return three starters on each side of the ball.
However, leading their group is quarterback Luke Thomas who starred for them at receiver last year. On defense, it'll be linebacker Caleb Pierson who recorded 105 tackles and 13 tackles for a loss.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m., Friday, at Madisonville High School.