Football games are played on Friday nights, but if one were to read fans on message board fans and the high school football pundits in the state, Heber Springs’ second-round class 4A playoff contest tonight in Wilson has already been played.

Those groups of people have already determined a winner and there should be no reason for the Panthers to make the nearly to three-hour trek to Rivercrest High School to tangle with the defending 3A state champion Colts, right?

Well somebody better get that memo to Heber Springs coach Darren Gowen and his Panther football squad. The Panthers have been defying preseason expectations all season long, and are seven points away from having the same record as Rivercrest and a 4A-2 conference crown.

The underdog role was one of the first things Gowen said to his team after Friday night’s 31-20 first-round playoff victory over Pocahontas.

“Doing something that other people don’t think you can do, it is always fun to get the kid’s attention with that,” Gowen said. “We’ve played pretty well in that role this season.

“We are going to be the underdog the rest of the time as long as we keep winning and they’ll still say that we will be losing the next game. That’s just what it is, but we do relish that and we’ll use that for motivation.”

For Rivercrest (10-1), they are considered the favorites because of their stout defense and a two-headed monster in the backfield with quarterback, Demilon Brown, and running back, Kentavious Robinson.

Robinson has rushed for almost 1,700 yards and 19 touchdowns, including scoring runs of 91, 84, 82 and 76 yards this season. Brown has rushed for more than a thousand yards this season with 19 touchdowns. 

“We are not going to be able to stop them, because no one has, we just have to slow them down,” Gowen said. “Their quarterback (Brown) makes them go, but we have to be sure to account for both them before they get going, we have to get a hat (helmet) on them quick. If they get running, they’ll have big plays and we can’t have that.”

The Colts have only attempted 70 passes this season and Gowen says that throwing the football is something that they don’t have to do.

“They do a lot of RPO (Run-Pass Option) in zone read stuff … but it’s just an extension of their running game,” he added.

For the Panthers, Blaze Nelson rushed 38 times for 314 yards, both career highs, against Pocahontas last week.

“They have three defensive linemen and two inside linebackers that we are going to have to be able to block,” Gowen said. “Those are two huge key points. If we can block their interior five and their outside linebackers, the secondary guys are not who they want to be making tackles. They don't get a lot of tackles because those other guys are so good.”

If the Colts key too much on Nelson, look for quarterback Adam Martin to have another big night. The junior passed for two touchdowns last week and ran for another.

The Panthers will be without the services of sophomore Matthew Cook. Cook was injured last week and will miss the rest of the playoffs.

“Not one person that will just step in and replace him,” Gowen said. “Depending upon what they are doing, we’ll just move some people around. At this time of the year, we really can’t just throw someone out there.”

The winner of tonight’s Heber Springs/Rivercrest contest will be at home next week against the winner of the Dumas/Helena-West Helena Central.

COACH GOWEN’S THREE KEYS TO VICTORY

Slow ‘em down: “They have to have 10- to 12-play drives. We can’t give up the big plays.” Block ‘em: “If we can block their front five, then we are going to be able to move the football. If we struggle blocking their front fie, then we are going to have to do some different things to get it done.” Take Away: “We have to force some turnovers and take care of the football. We need to force two to three turnovers.”