Just over a year ago, playing in their first-ever playoff game at Cromer Stadium, the Coconino Panthers came just plays away from breaking a drought of postseason success.
A field goal doinked off the upright, an extra point was missed and a questionable reception that could have been called either way kept the Panthers from their first playoff win since 2000.
As Panthers head coach Mike Lapsley described it to the Arizona Daily Sun last year: "I felt like offensively we were right on the cusp."
Now, following a perfect 7-0 regular season and a second consecutive 4A Grand Canyon Region crown, if you ask Lapsley about that loss, he'll be honest and as candid as he normally is. Following a Tuesday practice, Lapsley explained that while the game isn't something that will be totally forgotten, the Panthers have moved on.
The lessons from 2019's 10-9 home loss to Gila Ridge are learned, and the focus is getting the program that elusive first postseason win in almost 20 years.
"Honestly, we have flushed that game," Lapsley said. "I think coming into the season we were pretty hungry in terms of the way the last season ended, but moving forward I think it's one of those things we're not really thinking about. We are more importantly wanting to go out and do what we do."
This year it is a bit different, with the first postseason contest being a play-in game -- normally the playoffs start with the opening round -- before the field is then reseeded ahead of the actual first round of the 4A Conference state tournament.
That's two years, two postseason appearances for second-year head coach Lapsley.
"It's an expectation without a doubt," Lapsley said of making the postseason each year. " ... This coaching staff and myself have talked about it for a few years now and we've raised the bar. No longer is it that we are OK with average or above average. We have these goals in mind and we reiterate it to them every week."
Standing in the way of third-seeded Coconino is No. 15-seeded Estrella Foothills.
The Wolves out of Goodyear made a comeback in the second half of the season following a 1-3 start. Since then, Estrella has won three straight and has scored over 47 points in each of the victories.
Stopping that high-powered offense is the first challenge for the Panthers defense at Coconino High School Friday night.
Leading the Estrella attack is dual-threat quarterback Ty Perry, who has thrown 16 touchdowns to five interceptions and is averaging 240 passing yards per game. On the ground Perry leads his team in carries at 60 and total rushing yards at 494. He is tied for the team lead in rushing scores with six.
While his ability to work with his legs is obvious, it's the passing game where Perry and the Wolves have excelled. Perry's favorite target on the outside is Daylen Batchan -- a 6-foot-2 wide receiver -- who has gone for 773 receiving yards on 110 per game with 10 TDs.
There is a bit of a similarity between the Estrella offense and that of Bradshaw Mountain -- a team the Panthers are familiar with. While the Estrella version is more prolific, both employ dual-threat option QBs and speedy weapons around the field that need to be accounted for.
"Every week we ask our guys to be locked in," Panthers defensive coordinator Dalton Schwetz said. "We are a game-plan specific team. So we will throw different looks at him, we will make sure he is accounted for, but really we will do what we do and make sure we are sound against everything and let our guys fly around. ... We got to be ready for everything."
Friday's kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. A radio broadcast of the game will be aired on KAFF Country Legends 93.5 FM/AM 930 and online at kafflegends.gcmaz.com.
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