Sports Editor MATT DANIELS checks in with three area teams before second-round playoff games kick off:
1 BISMARCK — At some point in November, Caleb Lahey’s distinguished prep football career will end.For the 5-foot-11, 210-pound Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin standout running back, he’d like that to happen during the Class 2A state title game on Nov. 29 at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb.
In order to continue the postseason run, though, Lahey and his teammates will need to produce another big game when the Blue Devils (9-1) host Nashville (9-1) at 2 p.m. Saturday in a 2A second-round playoff game.
Lahey enters Saturday’s game with 5,589 career rushing yards and 79 rushing touchdowns, while averaging 8.8 yards per carry. And, based on his performance last Saturday during a 41-22 home win against Eldorado in first-round action, the four-year contributor for the Blue Devils is just starting to hit his stride in his senior season.
Lahey rushed for a season-high 241 yards on 24 carries and four TDs in the win against Eldorado. His previous season-best was 186 yards in Week 1.
“He’s battled through injuries really since Week 3,” BHRA coach Mark Dodd said. “He’s been really limited, and we’ve limited him as well. We wanted him to be healthy at this time of year.”
Good call. A robust Lahey is vital for BHRA if it wants to get by Nashville and into the state quarterfinals for only the second time in school history — and first time in 2A after the 2014 team made it that far in 1A.
“He’s fast. He runs a little angry,” Dodd said of Lahey.”It’s the rare combination of great athlete with speed and power. Last week, he had a full week of practice for the first time in four weeks, and that really showed. He really looked like the old Caleb that we’re used to seeing.”
2 PAXTON — Dalton Busboom has supplied solid defense from his middle linebacker position all season for Paxton-Buckley-Loda, registering a team-high 94 tackles in his senior season.“He’s a really smart, intelligent player for us,” PBL coach Josh Pritchard said.
Drew Diesburg is only a junior, but his five interceptions are a spark in the Panthers’ secondary.
“He’s done a phenomenal job for us this season,” Pritchard said.
Senior Alex Rueck is a force along the defensive line for PBL, with his 6-foot-4, 245-pound frame proving stout.
“He’s done a great job against the rush all season,” Pritchard said. “It’s hard to move him.”
These three contributors on PBL’s defense, along with the rest of the unit, will need to play their best game on Saturday night.
The Panthers (8-2) travel to play Farmington (8-2) in a 5 p.m. kickoff of a Class 3A second-round playoff game. The Farmers average 35.7 points and their only two losses this season are to 10-0 teams in Annawan/Wethersfield and Knoxville.
“Our defense has been pretty good this year, and we have a very athletic defense that wants to hit,” Pritchard said. “They all want to tackle. We feel like we can run with just about anybody in 3A. At times, Farmington is going to make plays because they’ve got good players. It’s not like they’re never going to gain a yard. We may give up some points, but we have to be able to slow them down a bit.”
PBL has posted two shutouts this season and limited Chicago Carver to only one touchdown during its 46-6 first-round playoff win last Saturday.
“This game won’t be like Chicago Carver,” Pritchard said. “We expect a four-quarter ballgame, and it comes down to who will execute better.”
PBL will also have to contend with its longest bus ride of the season in making the 120-mile trek to Farmington on Saturday. Pritchard said the Panthers will go through a walkthrough on Saturday morning before getting ready to head to Peoria County as PBL vies for its first trip to the state quarterfinals since 1998.
“You know the bus trips you’re going to face in the playoffs,” Pritchard said. “We like to try and keep our gameday routine as consistent as possible. For the kids, they’ve talked about all year how they’re trying to go farther than teams in the past have gone. We know that every team left in the playoffs is going to be good, but we’re really excited.”
3 FISHER — Upsets do happen in the playoffs.Fisher is looking to have perhaps the biggest one among any of the area teams playing this weekend. The eighth-seeded Bunnies (8-2) play at top-seeded Central A&M (10-0) in a Class 1A second-round playoff game at 1 p.m. Saturday.
In this decade alone, five of the 18 No. 1 seeds in 1A have lost before the state quarterfinals. And only one top seed in 1A has won a state title this decade, with Lena-Winslow doing so with a 21-20 victory against Tuscola in 2017 that also featured the only time both No. 1 seeds in the 32-team bracket have met in the 1A state championship game this decade.
“A&M has a variety of things that will be challenging for us, especially defensively,” Fisher coach Jake Palmer said. “Our offensive line and defensive lines will really have to battle and fight every play.”
The Raiders rely on two senior standouts offensively in quarterback Connor Heaton (2,390 yards of total offense and 41 total touchdowns) and receiver Jacob Paradee (31 receptions for 835 yards, 13 TDs).
“A lot of the coaches I’ve talked with think Paradee is arguably the best wideout in 1A,” Palmer said. “Trying to stop those guys on the perimeter is going to be key.”
Fisher was unable to post a second-round upset last season, falling 44-23 at top seed Argenta-Oreana. A surprising win at A&M, though, would not only garner attention throughout the state, but also land Fisher into the state quarterfinals for only the second time in school history.
“We understand it’s going to be a really hostile atmosphere,” Palmer said, “but we have an experienced group that knows what’s on the line.”