Tigers face improbable task - or do they?
KINGMAN - They're on the road against Tempe Prep, the No. 2 seed, at 7 p.m. today in Kingman Academy High School's first-ever AIA state football playoff game. The No. 15-seeded Tigers are not intimidated by the circumstances.
"We've been playing as if every week is a playoff game. We've had a one-and-done mentality the past five weeks," KAHS coach Dan Stroup said. "We've been having fun together and want to stay together."
With some help from other teams, KAHS (6-4) earned a spot in the playoffs despite losing its season finale to Lee Williams last Friday in overtime, 14-8. While taking on the No. 2 team in the first round doesn't sound favorable, the Tigers are looking at it as if the glass is half full.
"For us, it's not a bad draw," Stroup said. "We're humbled to be in the playoffs, but now the whole idea is about matching up. We would rather draw a running team than someone else. It gives our kids a different look than, say, Yuma Catholic."
Tempe Prep (9-1) does like to run. According to Max Preps, the Knights have run 288 offensive plays this season and on 232 of them they ran the ball. They average 163 yards per game on the ground and nearly 220 total, Max Preps reports. Academy linebackers Walker Glass, Chy Banda and Will Herbine will have to focus on the tandem of Zach Brittain and Jake Hantzler. Brittain averages 8.5 yards per carry and Hantzler 7.9. The pair has a combined eight touchdowns.
"They have a real good running game, and hopefully, we can match up with it," Stroup said. "They feature a straight-ahead I (formation) and try to pound the ball at you."
Defensively, Tempe Prep has forced 24 turnovers, more than two per game.
If the Knights' ball carriers do get past the second level, freshman defensive back Nate Carter likes to lay the wood on them.
"Nate is on of those rare finds who has played substantial time as a freshman," Stroup said. "He delivers a blow and will knock your pegs out."
Carter has 27 tackles and three interceptions for the Tigers. He's also returned six kickoffs.
"I've had a pretty good season so far," Carter said. "I'm really proud of my teammates. They've worked hard to make the playoffs."
Carter has transitioned from middle school football to the high school varsity level, but even he didn't think he be playing such a big role for the Academy and a playoff team to boot.
"I didn't think I had a shot," he said. "But I put a lot of hard work and dedication into it and earned my spot."
The transition between levels should include being intimidated by size, but not for Carter.
"It's a lot more complicated," he said. "We work a lot more on technique."
Carter and the rest of the Tigers have a lot of reasons to hold their heads up high this season. They'd like to add another with an upset over Tempe Prep.
"We're not going down there (just flattered to be in the playoffs)," Stroup said. "Once you're in the dance, you don't know if you get to kiss the girl. But you have a chance."