FNF Game of the Week Preview: Centralia vs. Highland
CENTRALIA - Centralia football coach Erle Bennett is no stranger to the Highland Cougars football team.
For the past four years, the Panthers have opened their football season against Highland and in each of those games, Centralia beat Highland by double-digits.
Bennett said he's looking for a similar result in this year's match up and will have the personnel to do it. On both sides of the ball, the Panthers return 13 starters: six on offense and seven on defense.
Leading the way for Centralia's defense will be All-State defensive end Sam Hasekamp. His biggest task will be to take on Highland's senior quarterback, Andrew Schultz, who threw for 2164 yards and 24 touchdowns last season. Hasekamp will get some help chasing down Schultz from fellow defensive linemen Trey Taft and Chris Hicks.
If Centralia wants to win this game, they will need to force Schultz to throw under pressure. Bennett's defensive scheme is built to force Schultz to air the ball out, where he'll face five defensive backs. The match-up to look out for wil be between Highland receiver Keetan Johnston against Centralia corner Donovan Dowell.
Unlike Highland, Centralia's offense won't be passing as much. The team averaged 317 rushing yards and 54 passing yards in the flex bone offense, which debuted last year. With the Panthers returning All-District fullback Klayton Marty and quarterback Clayton Simpkins, those numbers should look no different against Highland.
Centralia will face a Highland defense with loads of experience. The Cougars return eight starters on defense for the 2016 season. The most important position group for the Panthers to watch for is Highland's linebackers: Jace Jagger, Connor Wilson and Malik Dade.
Since Highland's linebackers will be focused on Centralia's rushing attack, it will be up to Simpkins to make sharp reads while running the option to trick a linebacking corp that has seen this Panthers team run their offense.
Bennett's Centralia team is projected to finish 8-1, in this year's edition of Pigskin Preview. The Panthers should beat Highland, although with a little bit more trouble from the Cougars this season. It may not be the 48-19 blowout that ensued last year, but expect a double-digit victory from the Panthers.