Elkton and North East met on the field only four weeks ago. Tonight, more will be on the line.
The Golden Elks host the Indians at 7 p.m. in the first round of the 2A East Region Playoffs.
Elkton (9-0) earned the region’s top seed after its undefeated season. North East will be the eighth seed after finishing 5-4.
“Not at all. The guys know it’s hard to beat a team twice in one season. There’s familiarity,” Elks coach Matt Feeney replied when asked if he felt the need to warn his team not to look past the Indians. “It’s going to be an interesting matchup and we’re ready for it. We’re mentally ready for it. We’re not taking them for granted. Nobody is taking North East lightly. There is no looking to the next week.”
North East coach Chris Schleich knows the task at hand is a daunting one.
“They’re a very good team – very athletic and fast. It’s going to be a tough challenge,” he said. “The run game keeps the clock moving, and when you’re an underdog, you want to shorten the football game. The run game is our strength, so that’s part of our game plan.”
Feeney expects a heavy does of Indians running back Jachai Graham, who impressed him during the previous meeting.
“I went back and I watched that film. North East has a big, physical line. They have a really loaded backfield. They were moving the ball against us a little bit,” Feeney said. “We had more success against some other teams on our schedule this year stopping their run than we did with North East. Not that they were running up and down the field on us, but they were moving the ball. Jachai Graham is a dynamic athlete, great runner. We’ve been dealing with him for the last few years and he always presents a problem. We know that we’ve got our work cut out for us in the regard. We’ve had a good week of practice, we’re fine-tuning and we’ll be ready to play Friday night.”
Elkton won the first meeting, 42-7, which is actually tied for the second-lowest point total the Elks produced all year.
The Indians are in the postseason for the first time since 2002.
“I’m very proud of our kids for being the second team in my four years to also have a winning record. Around here, at least at our school, it’s a pretty impressive feat,” Schleich said. “It also earned us a playoff berth. I’m proud that the kids will be out there representing North East High School as a playoff team. It was a great job top to bottom within our football program.”
Elkton is in the 2A playoffs for a fifth straight year. The Elks reached the state championship game in 2016 and the semifinals a year ago. Many players from last year’s squad star on this year’s team and remember well the feeling of losing to Oakdale one game shy of the state final.
It fueled them all year to a 9-0 regular season.
“You take a look at the final standings across the state and you only see a handful on teams that were 9-0. You look at the teams that you’re in the same company with and you know that they’re programs that have been successful for a long time, it’s kind of a fulfilling realization that you did something that these boys are going to remember forever – having an undefeated regular season,” Feeney said. “They’re very excited about it. It’s gratifying, but as we said, now we’re on to the real season.”
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