With the playoffs kicking off tonight, the Lynnville-Sully football team is having a bit of deja vu.
Squaring off against the same first-round opponent they defeated 54-14 last season, the Hawks (7-2) are hoping that deja vu will eventually include the score and not just hosting WACO of Wayland (6-3) in Sully tonight.
“Obviously we’re looking at last year’s tape so see some of the things we did well, but they’re a different football team and so are we,” Lynnville-Sully coach Mike Parkinson said. “When you graduate a number of guys like they did, you tend to be a different ballclub, so we’re just taking this game plan like any other game.”
One big difference for the Hawks from last season to now is the Class A District 6 championship they earned last Friday with a 21-0 defeat of Montezuma. Although it’s Parkinson’s third district title as a coach, it’s his first with the Hawks and he’s noticing the positive effects it’s having on the team when it needs a shot of confidence the most. They have now won six games in a row.
“After our loss to Pekin, we weren’t sure if we were going to get another chance at it,” Parkinson said. “We feel like we earned it and the guys were really excited about being district champions. Having done that, I think it gives them a little more sense of accomplishment and it was a really good way to finish the season.”
One big reason for the Hawks’ winning streak is a lockdown defense that hasn’t surrendered any points since Sept. 14. In that stretch, Lynnville-Sully has outscored its opponents by a combined 250-0 and also put up 61 and 70 points in back-to-back weeks.
“We’re pretty excited about the way our defense has been playing,” Parkinson said. “We go into every game trying to keep our opponents from scoring, and our guys are just really clicking right now. A lot of the time that puts you in a good position, and our offense and special teams are really helping out.”
The Hawk defense will likely get its first challenge in a while tonight in the form of the Warriors’ potent ground game. After featuring more a passing attack last year, Waco is being led this season by senior Tyler Ayers and his 1,171 yards and 12 touchdowns. Sophomore Tyler Janecek has added 10 touchdowns to that total along with 444 yards, and six other players have combined 11 more touchdowns on the ground.
On the other side of Waco’s offense, the Hawks will have nothing to fear but Fear himself. Senior quarterback Ben Fear has thrown for 512 yards on the year with five touchdowns and eight interceptions, but he appears to be a straight up pocket passer after pickung up only 39 yards on the ground to this point.
The Hawks and Warriors share only one common opponent this season in North Mahaska. Both teams put up at least 40 points on the Warhawks, with Lynnville-Sully winning 49-0 on Oct. 5 and Waco taking a 40-14 victory on Aug. 31.
“They look to be run heavy, but they’ll open it up and throw here and there,” Parkinson said. “We’re keying up to play the run, but also our defensive responsibilities for the pass game are to be up, ready to roll and to make plays.”
The Hawks’ offense hasn’t exactly been keeping the team down, either. Junior Bailee Samson has racked up 1,028 yards on the ground with 12 touchdowns, while fellow junior Caden Doll has 528 yards and 11 scores. Senior quarterback Cale Van Wyk is next on the team in rushing with 316 yards and six TDs, but he has also thrown for 718 yards with 10 TDs to six interceptions.
Parkinson, much like he has done all year, continues to credit the work of his assistant coaches for the team’s success so far this season. Although the Hawks take the usual game-by-game approach to their games, they also took some time in the past few days to take stock of where they are now against where they wanted to be at the beginning of the year.
Meeting most of their regular-season goals has just made them more excited for the playoffs, however, and Parkinson feels his players know how to properly adjust their attitudes and expectations for the postseason.
“We always try to keep the same mindset, but at the same time, we did go back and look at some of the goals we had earlier in the year,” Parkinson said. “We’re right on track where we want to be with our district championship and playoff goals, and right now the guys are just taking care of things that need to be taken care of to meet our lofty goals.”
When the Hawks and Warriors kick off at 7 p.m. tonight, it will touch off postseason football for most of the state as well. Although playing on Wednesdays and Mondays instead of Fridays tends to be an adjustment for some teams and coaches, Parkinson welcomes the change and is hoping his team can sustain a deep run this year.
“I was thinking (Tuesday) that tomorrow is Friday and I get to wear jeans to work,” Parkinson said with a laugh. “The days can get confusing, but it’s a lot of fun playing on Wednesdays, and I’m just excited for the guys and seeing how the community with become involved.”