The Cimarron Bluejays enter their playoff game on Friday night having had a very successful regular season. The Bluejays finished with an 8-1 record, are in the middle of a seven-game winning streak, finished atop district 7 standings, finished second in the Hi-Plains League and will be hosting the Ellsworth Bearcats in the first round of the Class 2A state playoffs Friday.
“We feel like we’ve had a good season because we’ve improved a lot,” head coach Greg Koenig said. “We’re just focused on getting better and doing our job to the best of our ability. ”
Throughout the season, Koenig has preached to his team a few key points.
“We’ve talked about a few things all season, that I think our guys have done a great job of buying into and taking to heart,” he said. “No. 1 is, if anyone asks, ‘How are things going?’ we ask them to respond with, ‘we’re working hard and getting better.’
“Secondly, we have convinced them, I think, that we are not playing against the opponent on the opposite side, we are playing against the best version of us. When you do those things, I think that it takes the pressure off of trying to compete with the other team.”
It might take some pressure off of the Bluejays’ recent playoff struggles, as well.
Cimarron has appeared in the playoffs seven out of the last last nine years, after returning to the postseason in 2010 after an 11-year absence. However, in the postseason, they have lost in the first round of the playoffs in their past seven playoff appearances. The last time Cimarron went past the first round was in 1998, when the ‘Jays advanced to the 3A quarterfinals.
The Bluejays aren't the only one who are trying to exorcise some playoff demons on Friday, as the Bearcats have also had their own struggles in the postseason. After going 6-3 and barely missing out in the playoffs in his first season at the helm in 2017, Bearcats head coach Josh Homolka led his team to a 2-6 record this season — and their first postseason berth since 2014.
Just like Cimarron, the Bearcats are in the middle of a playoff losing streak. The Bearcats have lost five consecutive playoff games, stretching back to the 1987 season, when Ellsworth reached the 3A semifinals, losing to Medicine lodge, 28-21. Also like Cimarron, this will be Ellsworth’s first year in the 2A playoffs.
Unlike most of the opponents the Bluejays have seen throughout the season, the Bearcats will be an unfamiliar foe for Cimarron.
“We’ve seen four different game films on them. The scouting report from coaches we’ve spoken with is that Ellsworth is a scrappy team,” Koenig said. “They have a couple of playmakers with pretty good speed. We couldn't tell you what size any of Ellsworth’s kids are, how fast they are, how many yards they have — we don't know any of that information. ”
Offensively, the Bearcats can pose a problem for the BlueJays with the amount of formations they run.
“They run, probably, 25 or more different formations, so we have to prepare for that. Different formations, I think, to try and take advantage of defenses and get defenses thinking out of position,” Koenig said. “Our practice focus on defense has been formation recognition and get lined up to do your job. That's what we’ve been working on all week long, and we hope we can control both sides of the line of scrimmage.”
Cimarron has done just for most of the season, allowing just 10.8 points per game this season. The Bearcats were held to fewer than 11 points three times this season.
The Cimarron offense has been just as productive, scoring 49.5 points per game this season.
“We think we should be able to score some points and do that things that we do well on offense,” Koenig said. “We have a lot of good players at the speed positions. Our running backs are very talented.”
One of those running backs is sophomore Tate Seabolt, who leads the team in rushing with 1,291 yards on 159 carries, with 15 touchdowns. He also leads the team in all-purpose yardage with 1,355.
“We feel like our tight ends are weapons on the passing game, our quarterback has had an outstanding season. Great decision making, great leadership from him,” Koenig said.
Senior signal caller Dylan Harrison has been the one controlling the huddle and has led the team in passing, connecting on 32-of-72 passes for 476 yards with nine touchdowns and only one interception. Harrison also scored six touchdowns on the ground.
Ultimately, however, Koenig points to one part of his offense that has played well this season, and has allowed for his team to be successful this season,
“To be honest, its start up front with our offensive linemen,” he said. “We have good size up front, but they know their blocking roles and they know our scheme really well, and they are able to make adjustments on the fly ... We really feel like the guys up front have matured a lot and have improved, which gives our speed guys a lot of opportunities to make plays.”
If Cimarron is finally able to snap that seven-game playoff losing streak on Friday, it will be another notch added to their belt in a season that started with uncertainty. After losing the opening game against the Elkhart Wildcats, in a lightning-shortened game, the Bluejays took that first game and learned from it.
“That left a bitter taste in our mouth, but i think i think our kids responded the right way. We talked a lot about dealing with adversity, and embracing adversity and using adversity to come back better. I think our kids did that — every time we have faced adversity through this year, that's exactly what we’ve seen from our young men. ,” Koenig said.