Panther quarterback AJ Landon escapes pressure from a Philo defender. The Panthers hope to get back on the winning track when they travel to Greeneview on Friday. Tune into the Journal-Tribune’s podcasts discussing the local high school football games. The podcasts are on Spotify or other podcast platforms. (Journal-Tribune photo by Tim Miller)
It’s been an unusual two weeks for the Fairbanks High School football team.
Losses to Indian Lake and Philo were the result of different types of weeks.
The Panthers led Indian Lake, 7-6 a couple of weeks ago when the game was halted due to lightning on a Friday night.
The contest resumed a night later and Indian Lake rallied late for a 19-14 victory.
Philo High School was an 11th hour substitute last week for a Southeastern team that was struck by COVID-19.
Fairbanks took that game on the chin, 26-7.
Despite a weird couple of weeks, the 1-2 Panthers are back at it and ready to go.
The Panthers will begin the Ohio Heritage Conference portion of their schedule with Friday’s road game at Greeneview (1-2).
The Rams run what FHS coach Patrick Cotter calls a “Wing-T ish/spread type of offense.”
The unit is led by quarterback Keegan Phillips.
“Everything they do runs through him,” said Cotter. “He throws the ball well, but is also a wiggly, slippery type of runner as well.”
Keegan has completed 19-of-40 passes for 157 yards and a touchdown.
Although Keegan is the main focus of the Rams’ offense, he’s not their only potential weapon.
“They’ve got several guys who can line up as running backs or receivers,” said Cotter.
Some of those valuable components include Rylan Hurst and Cole DeHaven.
Hurst leads the team with 113 yards rushing on 24 carries.
“They don’t have anyone who is going to carry the ball 15 or 20 times a game,” said Cotter. “It’s more like running back by committee, with different guys carrying the ball five to seven times per game.”
William Reichley and Asthan Hendricks have combined to catch 11 passes for 109 yards.
Cotter said the Rams will split their offense in a 50/50 ratio between the ground game and aerial attack.
Greeneview’s skill position players operate behind an athletic and decent-sized line.
“They are a team much like us in that they need to stay on schedule to be successful,” said Cotter. “The one game they won (27-6 over Middletown Madison), they moved the ball well.
“The two games they’ve lost (17-3 to Waynesville and 19-6 to Northeastern) have been because they fell behind the sticks.”
Cotter expects the Rams to use a lot of counter action against his defensive unit.
Still, FHS can’t overlook Greeneview’s passing game.
“We have to prepare for both this week in practice,” he said. “Our defense will have to recognize what formation Greeneview is in on any given play and not just look at it from a down-and-distance standpoint.”
Greeneview will line up in a base 3-4 defense.
However, the Rams may also walk one or two linebackers up to the line of scrimmage to present a four or five-man front.
“I assume they will do that when they see our tight end sets,” said the Panther coach.
If the Rams do that, they will look to take away Fairbanks’ inside running game.
They could also spread out their defense to thwart the outside edge of the Panthers’ ground attack.
Cotter isn’t concerned either way.
“If they take the edges away, I feel we’ll be comfortable taking the ball up the middle,” he said. “If they clamp on the middle, we can get to the outside.
“Our guys do a great job of adapting to whatever a defense gives us.”
The Panthers’ outside ground game is led by Brogan Green, who has rushed for 192 yards on 35 carries.
Riordin Stauffer takes care of business up the middle with 86 yards on 21 attempts.
Cotter said field position and ball possession will be key factors in the outcome of the contest.
“Staying on schedule is going to be a big thing for us,” he said. “Our defense has to get off the field on third down.
“Our offense will have to maintain drives and not get behind the sticks.”
Despite being 1-2 to begin the campaign, Cotter said the Panthers are still raring to go.
“The guys came into practice at 8 a.m. on Labor Day with a great mindset,” he said. “We know that what’s done is done and it’s time to move forward.
“We know we’re just a handful of plays from being 2-1 or maybe even 3-0,” he said. “The guys know we can’t give up big plays on defense and we have to finish drives and score when we have the ball.
“It’s not just the players,” said Cotter. “We all, coaches included, have to get better and fix some little things as we move forward.”