A week after Lakota East defeated rival Lakota West, the Liberty Township school will come together Friday afternoon for a pep assembly to celebrate the program’s first postseason appearance in school history.
Meanwhile, in Springboro, another fan base gears up for its first playoff experience at the Division I level.
Lakota East head coach Rick Haynes describes his team, which is led by 26 seniors, as a group that takes great pride in knowing it has accomplished something that has never been done.
But, they didn’t always feel that way.
In fact, there wasn’t much hope for the playoffs until East players, who had just gotten back to its home locker room after the West game, saw a Tweet via The Enquirer that read, “Sycamore, Lakota East, Moeller all playoff locks.”
The message would make its way to Haynes, who admitted that he had “no idea” if his team was postseason bound in a postgame interview last Friday night.
“That is when I realized things might be falling into place,” said Haynes of the Tweet.
“They (the players) were very excited because they thought that once we lost to Mason that our chances were pretty much done.”
East began the season, winning five of its first six games and its first three games against Greater Miami Conference opponents until it lost back-to-back games against Sycamore (28-7) and Mason (28-13) in October.
The Thunderhawks, however, bounced back defeating Fairfield and Lakota West during the last two weeks of the season.
Then on Friday night, the West win and the extra points earned when Northmont, a team Lakota East defeated in Week 1, defeated Wayne gave the Thunderhawks enough to sneak into the No. 7 seed in the OHSAA Region 4 postseason bracket.
That slot in the bracket matches East (7-3) against the No. 2-seeded Springboro Panthers (10-0). The game will begin at 7 p.m. Saturday at CareFlight Field on the Springboro High School campus.
Similarly, Springboro qualified for the postseason for the first time since moving from D-II to D-I in 2006. The program won all of its regular season games this fall for the third time in school history and for the first time since its jump to D-I.
“When you get to this point, I don’t know if there is anything not to like about playing in November. It is going to be special,” Springboro head coach Ryan Wilhite said. “Our players are excited and that shows in practice, but that enthusiasm isn’t new. They have played that way all year.
“It makes you want to win, not just because you are competitive, but because you don’t want to stop coaching these guys. They are special group.”
Statistically, the Panthers have been special all year – averaging around 433 yards of total offense per game, while limiting opponents to an average of 239 yards.
In comparison, East is averaging 332 yards of offense and allowing 287 on defense.
Despite the gap between the two programs, statistically, the two schools play similar styles – with Springboro using a spread option to average almost 310 rushing yards per game and East using the triple option to average just more than 288 rushing yards per contest.
“One of the strengths of our offense that we are able to distribute the ball to a number of players,” Wilhite said. “It is kind of similar to what Lakota East does.
“Their fullback/quarterback/tailback are all part of that triple option and that makes it tough on a defense when you can’t just stop one thing.”
For Springboro, the trio of senior Kyle Longworth (962 yards and 7 TDs on 132 carries), senior Rahman Hardin (1,053 yards and 13 TDs on 113 carries) and junior quarterback Jack Schaaf (763 yards and 14 TDs on 73 carries) have combined to total 2,778 rushing yards and 34 touchdowns.
For East, its trio of senior Will Mahone (1,065 yards and 15 touchdowns on 178 carries), senior Chamada Palmore (548 yards and 3 touchdowns on 70 carries), and junior quarterback Eric Eichler (541 yards and 9 touchdowns on 130 carries) has also been difficult to stop for opposing defenses.