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Squadron facing versatile Panthers

The Highland Home Flying Squadron are out of the proverbial frying pan and into the fire this week as the team hosts another top-notch contender in the Georgiana Panthers Friday.

But the Panthers present an altogether different challenge from last week.

“You come off playing a big, physical Elba team and you turn around next week and you’ve got athletes galore running around for Georgiana,” said Gregg Baker, Highland Home’s head football coach.

“You go from one extreme to the other—from having to defend guys that are going to run right over you to having to defend guys with 4.4 and 4.5 speed running all over the field.”

Baker’s key concern is ironing out last week’s mistakes that grounded the Squadron in the team’s 64-6 loss to Elba.

“We did not play good, fundamental football at all,” Baker said. “Obviously, having a new quarterback in there limited us to what we wanted to do offensively, although I thought Daniel (Phillips) did a good job as a ninth grader and taking over control of the offense.

“We didn’t tackle well, and we didn’t play good fundamental football at all.  Of course, when you play a team like Elba that way, it’s going to end up like it did.”

The Panthers could prove the most versatile and dangerous team yet for the young Squadron team, however.

With athletes present at key positions all over the field, both on offense and defense, the Panthers have proven throughout the year that they’re a team capable of scoring on offense, defense and special teams.

“And their coach has done a great job—the kids have bought in to what he’s preaching, and they’re playing good football and they believe in each other and what they’re doing, and that adds to that,” Baker said.

“Our plan going in is that we want to be consistent, and not make the stupid mistakes that gives them easy scoring opportunities.  We’ve got to be patient on offense and sustain some drives, and try to run some of that clock off.  Defensively, we just can’t give up the big play.  They’re explosive, and if you can cut some of those explosive plays out, then you’ve got a better opportunity.”

The task of limiting Georgiana’s myriad options will prove most difficult of all.

“They’ve got four capable receivers, they’ve got running backs and they’ve got quarterbacks, and every one of them is a weapon,” Baker said.

“So you can’t load the box and try to take the run game away and not expect them to throw it on you, and you can’t rush three and drop everybody else without them gutting you up the middle.  You’re kind of caught in a quandary there where it seems like whatever you do is wrong.”

Regardless of the challenge the past two weeks have presented, Baker said that the final games of the season have acted as a measuring stick of sorts for where he wants the Squadron to be.

“A ninth grader is not a ninth grader any more—he’s a sophomore in our eyes; a sophomore is now a junior,” Baker said.

“We’re seeing a lot of younger guys get opportunities now, and we’re only losing two seniors.  These guys are getting some valuable game experience, and hopefully we can use that in the offseason to build for next year.”

The Squadron will host the Panthers Friday night with a kickoff slated for 7 p.m.