Sports Editor

FOYIL — Over the last two seasons, the Foyil Panthers have rung up a 23-2 record.

It was a heady run that produced an All-Stater and Division I player.

But they will be hard-pressed to duplicate last year’s high-scoring run to the state semifinals.

First and foremost, the Panthers will be asked to bring their “A” game to the table.

That would be “A” game, as in Class A.

The Panthers are stepping up in weight.

They have left the eight-man game behind, and have graduated into the 11-man ranks where they will be paired with traditional heavyweights such as Hominy and Pawnee in District A-6.

Much has been made of the Panthers’ upward move. But it’s more of a conversational topic among fans that among Panther coaches.

Aside from widening Foyil’s McGregor Field by 40 feet, it’s been business as usual for the coaching staff during August.

“Football is football,” head coach Trent Worley says. “The object of the game on offense is to get the football in the end zone. The object of the game on defense is to tackle the man with the football before he gets to the end zone.”

A year ago, in Worley’s first season as coach of his alma mater, the Panthers put the ball in the end zone so often in Class B that a number of games were cut short by the mercy rule.

In six of their 10 regular-season games, the Panthers scored in excess of 50 points. They had 63 in one half. They scored 71 one night.

But graduation took the engineer of that offense. All-star Tanner Antle has moved on to the University of Tulsa this season.

Now, Worley will entrust the signal-calling duties to sophomore Jared Ward (6-0, 140). “He is a tremendous athlete, and a tremendous competitor,” Worley says.

Then, to stop the opponents from getting to the end zone, Worley must find replacements for three linemen who anchored a defense that limited six regular-season teams to eight points or less.

A glaring absence from the Panthers’ roster is in the offensive backfield where Kameron Sanders rushed for more than 2,000 yards in his sophomore and junior seasons.

Sanders has left school. In his place on the Panther roster is senior running back Douglas Smith (6-0, 195).

Worley says graduation and other losses are just part of the high school game.

“Expectations are still high,” he said. “We don’t expect to struggle. We still expect to win. Are we going to? I can’t guarantee it. But we are going to expect to win.”

Six seniors and seven juniors who had starting time and significant playing time off the bench are back.

Worley says the step up in class, necessitated by Foyil’s growth in enrollment, is no big deal.

“For the kids, I don’t think it’s anything else but another football season,” he said.

“Looking at our schemes, offensively, we call the plays the same, we run the same routes, same combinations. Nothing changes,” he said.

“We’ve just added two tackles and an extra receiver.

“Defensively, we’re a 3-2 defense. In 11-man terms, that’s a 3-4. We just added two outside linebackers and an extra safety.

“Everything’s the same. The transition, the fundamental X’s and O’s, is easy.

“The 11-man game is a simpler game on defense because you’ve got three more guys to help you tackle the ball carrier,” he said.

“From the day they started playing football here, they have always been taught to play tough, physical and fast.

“Those are the three things that we still play with in the same system.

“In practice, we coach being tough, playing with good technique, and sprint to the ball,” he said. “Whatever you do, do it with some hustle. Offense or defense.”

Hustle is a constant.

If anything has changed for the Panthers from the eight-man game to the 11-man game, it might be the absence of the mercy rule.

Last season, the Panthers had a half-dozen games cut short of regulation because of being in front by 41 points or more.

Even the most optimistic of Panthers does not expect to be the offensive juggernaut of 2005.

“We just want to score enough points to win,” Worley said simply. “If that means we have to score 32, we’re going to score 32. If that means we have to score 3, we’ll score 3. We’ll do whatever it takes to win a ballgame.

“It’s not the X’s and O’s. It’s not playing the bigger schools, per se,” Worley said. “It’s the transition of now it’s 48 minutes. It’s four full quarters that you’ve got to play, instead of three quarters, or just a half.

“We’ve conditioned a lot better than we have in the past,” he said. “We’re in better shape. So we can last, and also to prevent injury.”

Ward should be in good shape, too, when the Panthers turn to their passing game.

Ward will have eight receivers to choose from when he is asked to throw. Chief among those will be senior Eric Murray (5-11, 165) and juniors Taylor Antle (6-3, 170) and Kris Mount (6-1, 170).

“All of the skill positions can catch the ball well, get open, and have good speed and quickness,” Worley said.

For protection up front, Ward will be operating behind the experienced likes of senior linemen David Cummings (5-11, 190), Josh Daugherty (6-0, 175), Dale Gilmore (5-11, 180) and Jake Hutchinson (5-5, 150).

The three biggest linemen are juniors, Dustin Gilmore (6-2, 245), Robert Harriett (6-3, 256) and Kenny Smith (6-0, 268).

Foyil had the size and the players to push people around in Class B.

Foyil was the neighborhood bully. It might not be the same in Class A.

Foyil will be one of the most-watched teams in the area as it steps out of its comfort zone. The Panthers will need their “A” game for this.

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