H-P Sports Editor

Palestine Wildcats, welcome to the third season of high school football.

After going 3-1 in season one (non-district) and taking second place in season two (district play), the Wildcats will begin the third season (the playoffs) this week.

“This is what we worked all season for,” Palestine head coach Glen Tunstall said. “We have worked hard to make it to the third season of football.”

Palestine will open the playoffs at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in a rematch against Silsbee at Abe Martin Stadium on the Lufkin High School campus in the Class 3A-Region III, Division I bi-district round. Palestine will be the visiting team.

The Wildcats (7-2) look to start another run in the playoffs like they did last year, going four rounds deep, and Tunstall hopes those players who were on last year’s team knows what it takes.

“Our seniors and some of the juniors were all part of this last year and they understand how you have to take it one game at a time,” Tunstall said. “I hope their experiences from last year is a big plus because they have been in this situation before.”

Palestine defeated Silsbee last year in the bi-district round 34-9 as the Wildcats accumulated 371 yards of offense. But this year, there are a lot of new faces on the Wildcat squad who were watching from the sidelines last year, including quarterback Devin Stephens and the entire Palestine offensive line.

“We got kids who are going to play and it does not matter if it is in the backyard or in a playoff game,” Palestine offensive coordinator Tommy Allison said of some of his players not having playoff experience. “I do not see it as a problem at all.”

The Palestine offense has been on a roll this year, averaging over 39 points and 382 yards of offense a game, but the Palestine coaching staff knows they are up against a big test Thursday against a tough Silsbee team which Allison calls a complete defense.

“They really do a great job against the run, their defensive line is big and as a unit they really fly to the football,” the Palestine offensive coordinator said. “We are going to have to beat them because they are not going to beat themselves.”

The Tigers base out of a 50 defense but will show three different fronts which puts pressure on the Palestine offensive line.

“For our offensive line, the most important thing is to communicate so we are on the same page against what fronts are being shown,” Tunstall said. “This defense reminds me a lot of Jacksonville with how they will run to the football.”

Silsbee returns six starters from last year’s defense including inside linebackers Kyle McGallion and Whinton Morrisey.

“Their inside linebackers are as good as we have faced all year,” Tunstall said.

After struggling in a loss to Crockett, the Palestine offense has rediscovered itself the last two games with 543 yards against Westwood and 409 yards against Huntington.

Wide receiver Kevin Swanson has played a big role in those two offensive outputs as the junior has nine catches for 177 yards and four touchdowns in the two games.

“Kevin has become a big part of our offense and we have made it an emphasis to get him more involved,” Allison said. “When he is more involved we are a tougher team to defense.”

Swanson also proved valuable in the Palestine run game against Huntington when he took an end around on fourth down and picked up 21 yards and the first down.

“We feel like he is a playmaker for us and good things happen when the ball is in his hands,” Allison said.

Silsbee (4-4) enters Friday’s game as runner up in District 22-3A after losing to Jasper 35-21 last week in a game which decided the district title.

The Tigers opened the season with three loses then after dealing with the after effects of Hurricane Rita, Silsbee came back on the field and won four straight district games before the loss to Jasper.

The Tigers, a run-oriented offense out of the split veer, main weapon is the triple option.

“The thing about this kind of offense is that you do not see it very much,” Palestine defensive coordinator said. “You have to be well disciplined and have to have someone responsible for all three aspects of the option.”

Palestine saw the same offense last year and shut down the Tigers’ running game, holding Silsbee to 29 yards on 28 carries.

“Last year our kids played real disciplined defense, tackled well and made sure they were in positions to make the tackles,” Bowie said. “We need the same type of effort this week.”

Bowie said the biggest difference this year from last year is that Silsbee seems to running more on the dive.

“It could be who they are playing but they have three very good runners,” Bowie said.

Silsbee returns running back Terrance Williams, who had six carries for 34 yards against Palestine last year, but the other two parts of the triple option will be new to the Wildcats.

Chris Stout will be Silsbee’s starting quarterback while the other running back will be Rocky Calhoun, who rushed for 182 yards on 11 carries in the loss to Jasper.

“Our defense is going to have to have one of their better games and needs to play like it did against Carthage,” Tunstall said.

Tunstall believes his squad may have the edge in the special teams department.

John Gold will be back kicking extra points. Gold has been sidelined to only punting duties for most of the season due to a sore back, but he was cleared to resume his other kicking duties last week.

The Wildcats also will be a threat returning kicks as Palestine has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns this year. Montrell Johnson struck first when he returned the opening kickoff against Jacksonville and last week Jacobi Jackson returned the second half kickoff for a score.

Notes: Palestine trailed 9-0 to Silsbee in the first quarter last year but the Wildcats outscored the Tigers 34-0 in the remaining three quarters. ...Palestine wide receiver Leon Mickens had two touchdown catches and Trevlyn Reed had a 15-yard touchdown run in the playoff game against Silsbee. ...With 175 passing yards last week, Stephens broke the century mark and has passed for 1,046 yards this season.

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