Panthers, Seahawks know to tame feelings in playoffs

Published 5:18 pm Tuesday, November 7, 2017

CHOCOWINITY — Northside and Southside had a home-and-home series each season for four years. From 2012 to 2016, the two rivals would play once in non-conference before meeting in 1-A Coastal Plains Conference action with the Anchor Bowl on the line.

As if by destiny, the Seahawks and Panthers collide in the first round of the 1-A NCHSAA playoffs after scrapping their non-conference encounter this year.

It’s not easy to play a team twice in one season. That’s especially true of two rivals. Northside started that recent four-year home-and-home series by sweeping the Seahawks in 2013. Southside took the next four games in 2014 and 2015 before splitting with the Panthers last season.

It was odd the way the two games unfolded in 2016. The Panthers handled Southside in Chocowinity, 23-6, in Week 3 as part of their 4-0 start to the season. Then, on its own field, Northside fell, 22-6, in the annual Anchor Bowl game.

“I think it’s whoever wins the first one, the other team has an added incentive not to let it happen again,” Northside coach Keith Boyd said. “I think, sometimes, the team that wins relaxes a little bit.

“But we’ve got to put that behind us. It’s 0-0 on both sides. Winner continues and the loser packs it up and waits for next year.”

Emotions involved in a rivalry have a lot to do with it. There are minor adjustments made by coaches between the two games, and injuries always have their impact, but the passion behind the matchup itself can be as valuable as anything.

The value comes in managing it instead of letting the emotions manage a player.

“Southside is a rivalry. It’s that much more weight on our shoulders,” Panther senior quarterback Matthew Marslender said. “They’re hungry for a win. We’re hungry for a win. We got the anchor. They want to come back and beat us. We’re going to work hard and get at them.”

Marslender believes that there is a jolt of energy provided by playing in enemy territory, which is what Northside will be doing on Thursday. He and the Panthers escaped Chocowinity with a win the last two times they went to Southside.

For the Seahawks, those emotions were even more potent on Oct. 20 as it was also their senior night. They flew high, making the crash after the 16-12 loss that much harder to endure.

Now both sides are fighting simply to play for another week.

“It’s going to be a more concentrated game because you only have one shot now. It’s survive or go home,” junior Seahawk quarterback Will Warren said. “The seniors, I’ve talked to them, they’re mentally ready. It’s their last year. They want to go out with a bang.”

Like Boyd, Southside coach Jeff Carrow knows well that his team has to contain these feelings. It’s good to play with added motivation, but letting the passion boil over and get out of control will be detrimental.

“I don’t think anything is different this year than any other year,” he said. “Our guys are going to have to be mentally prepared, physically prepared. (Northside) bullied us a little bit last time and our guys didn’t respond well.”

Mental sharpness is what it boils down to. Boyd and Carrow have implemented different practice strategies to coach that for their respective teams.

But an emotional team can’t always be mentally tough. Staying sharp in that regard means keeping these emotions in check.

Matthew Marslender tries to maneuver his way past a would-be Seahawk tackler during their Oct. 20 meeting. (Ashley Vansant/WDN)

What the Panthers will be watching:

Marslender is in only his first season as Northside’s starting quarterback, but is a battle-tested defensive back at the varsity level. He’s seen Southside’s offense operate from the best seat in the house plenty of times.

“You always try to prepare for Southside, but their offense is so confusing because they have guys going everywhere,” said Marslender, who also anchors Northside’s defensive secondary. “You never know what’s going to happen. They’ve got a good coach, they always throw new things at us, and they’ve always got big plays in there.”


What the Seahawks will be watching:

Warren and Southside’s offense kept pace with the Panthers last time out. It came down to a pair of missed conversions. Warren and the Seahawks’ offense will hope to turn it up a notch and better attack Northside’s defense.

“With their defense, the main thing is getting the linebackers. The middle linebackers are the main ones that cause problems when it comes to our offense,” Warren said. “It was just a couple of missed blocks that led to the chaos that happened in the backfield a couple of times.”