When the Lakin Broncs take the field Friday night in Phillipsburg, it will be uncharted territory for all their players.
None of them were even born the last time Lakin advanced to the second round of the state football playoffs.
The last time that happened was 1999.
With last Friday’s first-round 44-14 win over visiting Norton, the Broncs improved to 8-1, by far the best record in coach Chris Bamberger’s four years and the best since Lakin went 10-1 in 2004.
Lakin and Phillipsburg have a brief history against one another, with Phillipsburg winning a 37-28 game back in 2011.
The Panthers were 12-1 last year in Class 3A, losing in the semifinals. In 2016, they were 11-1, losing in the quarterfinals. In 2015, they won it all, going 11-2 in their only title game appearance.
But the Broncs have their reasons for feeling confident as they travel more than 200 miles Friday.
Quarterback Juan Banuelos has thrown the ball just 57 times this season for 353 yards and two scores.
The senior’s prowess, however, is on the ground, using both option and designated runs to help lead the Broncs with 681 yards (76 per game) with eight scores. That includes 190 yards and two scores against Norton.
The Broncs have three more rushers to share the load, with Kayden Christiansen averaging 114.1 yards a game (913 total in just eight games) to go with 14 touchdowns.
Junior William Gilleland averages 9.1 yards a carry (35.4 yards a game), with six scores, while sophomore Trey Hayzlett averages 32 yards with six touchdowns.
The Panthers are a tried and tested team, as seen in their past few seasons.
At 9-0, Phillipsburg is the state’s top-ranked team in Class 2A, having taken out such potent teams as Smith Center and Hoisington.
They have scored 441 points thus far (49 points a game average) while giving up just 91 in nine games.
The Panthers have experience in four-year starting quarterback Trey Sides. A dual passing and running threat, Sides has completed just over 50 percent of his passes for 823 yards and 15 scores.
A favorite receiver is Ty Sides, a sophomore who has caught 17 passes, averaging 20 yards a catch, with 10 touchdowns.
The Panthers’ running game has as a main threat Treylan Gross, a 6-0, 205-pound senior. He has averaged two rushing touchdowns a game and needs just 46 more yards to hit 1,000 to match last season.
Gross has 73 carries for 954 yards, an average of 13 yards a carry.
Defensively, leading tacklers are senior linebacker Karen Keeten with 80 total tackles and three sacks, nose guard Janet Shelton with five sacks, and middle linebacker Tanner Ragsdale with 60 total tackles and a sack.
For Bamberger, this is just another game on the schedule, even though it has more riding on it. That’s just the way it has to be be at this time of the year, especially with how his Broncs have approached practice.
“I wouldn’t say it's anything different than what got us here,” he said of his team’s approach to the game. “We continue to go to practice and continue to do the same things, with Phillipsburg as our focus this week.”
From watching game film and talking to other coaches, Bamberger knows that the Panthers have a number of weapons.
“Their speed is very good. They have a very athletic scheme. They’re very well coached,” Bamberger said. “Trying to simulate that in practice is always a challenge.”
The two-pronged attack of the pass and run is also concerning.
“They’re very good about their timing of their passes. They have a lot of play action passes,” he said. “They run the ball well, so they get guys to commit. They’re very good at throwing the ball and exposing you in that way.”
Because of Phillisburg’s depth at running and targets in passing, keying in on one or two players would be a mistake, Bamberger noted.
“They will be tough to defend,” he said. “It’s going to take an entire effort from everybody on defense. You’ve got to go play this time of year. The teams that play the best games on Friday and play mistake-free, battle and stay healthy, those are usually the teams that extend their season the longest.”