LEIPSIC — From the frying pan into the fire.
Leipsic is coming off its first loss of the season to Liberty-Benton, 24-21, and now the Vikings face another big contest Friday night when they travel to face the No. 1 team ranked team in Division VII and defending state champion McComb.
For Leipsic head coach Joe Kirkendall it will be a time to see how his team reacts to a loss.
“The first thing we talked to the kids about is not letting Liberty-Benton beat us more than one time,” Kirkendall said. “Not having them beat us on Friday night and allowing that to carry over and affect our mentality, our week of preparation and then a hangover affect against McComb or Arlington the next week.”
Kirkendall said his veteran team seems to have responded well throughout this week of practice and he is confident his players have moved on and put their full focus on McComb.
“I told them when you lose you can learn a lot of stuff,” Kirkendall said. “If you take it in the right way it can be a positive but we will see. It is tough though and it is tough to have a loss this late in the season.”
Kirkendall said the Vikings knew these final three games were going to be tough and he said his team has played hard throughout the year in preparation for the homestretch and the playoffs.
One advantage Kirkendall sees is that his seniors have played in a lot of big games.
“If you look at our seniors they have been to the playoffs three years in a row,” Kirkendall said. “Half our senior guys played as sophomores and the majority of these guys have played as juniors or sophomores so they have been in these games before. They have been in these moments and they haven’t got frazzled by them.”
Kirkendall points to the Pandora-Gilboa game in week three. The Vikings found themselves down late in the fourth quarter, 22-20, with around four minutes left in the game and Leipsic was at its own 4-yard line. The Vikings meticulously marched downfield to score the winning touchdown with less than a minute to go.
Kirkendall adds that even though they came up short against Liberty-Benton last week, the Vikings rallied from a 14-0 deficit to eventually get within three points before losing.
“We scuffled a little bit in the third quarter and then we found our stride,” Kirkendall said. “I still think if we could have gotten a stop and the ball back we could have very easily gone down and scored again just because we found a rhythm.”
Leipsic, led by its rushing attack, is third in the Blanchard Valley Conference in team offense. The Vikings are averaging 34.4 points a game and 375 yards a contest.
Leipsic features two top running backs. Cole Williamson leads the team in rushing with 721 yards and 12 touchdowns on 119 carries and Juan Pena is second on the squad with 591 yards and nine touchdowns on 86 carries.
Quarterback Drew Liffick, starting his first year behind center for the Vikings, has passed for 827 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Kirkendall said it has been the veteran offensive line that has been the key to the Vikings moving the ball effectively.
“They have really set the tone,” Kirkendall said. “Our pass blocking has been tremendous. Other than last week we have controlled the line of scrimmage in every game that we have played and that group up front has done a really great job.”
Defensively, the Vikings are second in the BVC to McComb, giving up an average 0f 213 yards a contest and an average of 13.1 points a game.
The Viking defense will have its hand’s full against McComb. The Panthers are tops in the BVC in total offense, averaging 434.3 yards a game. They have passed for 1,319 yards and rushed for 2,153 yards and are averaging 45.3 points a contest.
Individually, the Panthers’ offensive attack is spearheaded by quarterback Aaron Davis, who has gained 779 yards and scored 12 touchdowns on 62 carries. Davis has passed for 1,247 yards and 14 touchdowns with two interceptions.
“Defensively it is one of those things where we haven’t played as good as we are capable of but we have played Ok,” Kirkendall said. “We fly to the ball. We have strong, aggressive kids. We just have a bad habit of playing really good football for 85 percent of the game and then giving up two or three big plays that come back to bite us. If we can clean those up I think we can be right where we think we should be.”
Even though the defense will be tested, Kirkendall said the game will be decided in the trenches as both teams bring in strong lines on both sides of the ball.
“With McComb they have some really good offensive and defensive linemen and those are the guys from last year’s team,” Kirkendall said. “They do so many different things that they are tough to prepare for. You don’t know what offensive mentality they are going to have or what defensive scheme they are going to run because when you watch them on film they have done a multitude of things and that is a challenge.”
Even though coaches never like to look ahead but Kirkendall said he knows that Leipsic is going to make the playoffs and that takes some of the pressure off as far as it being must-win situations in the final two games. However, Kirkendall adds that he would rather go to the postseason with wins instead of losses.
“We know we are going to be playing week 11 and actually in a way it makes it easier,” Kirkendall said. “There is no stress or pressure of making the playoffs. We know we are going to do it. Now it is a matter of this week beating McComb because it is McComb.”