Snider senior Brandon Phelps remembers exactly when the tide turned in last year's game against Bishop Luers.
On fourth down with less than three minutes left in the first half, the quarterback was just a yard out from helping extend the Panthers' 14-6 lead, but was stopped short of the goal line.
The big play keyed a touchdown drive before halftime for the Knights in an eventual 32-21 Snider defeat.
Phelps and the 36 other Panthers seniors do not expect the same outcome on Friday between the same two teams.
Kickoff between Class 5A No. 11 Snider and Class 2A No. 1 Bishop Luers is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Northrop's Spuller Stadium.
“We know what mistakes were made (last year) and definitely throughout practice so far we have moved to fix them,” Phelps said. “We just have to execute.”
The defeat to the Knights last year has not only been a motivator this training camp for Snider, but one that has carried the program throughout the spring and summer. Being so thoroughly dominated in the second half by the Knights after cruising to an early lead has been all the incentive the Panthers' coaching staff has needed to get its players' attention.
“It was not a conditioning factor or anything last year,” said Snider coach Kurt Tippmann on the second half letdown of 2011. “It was more about our focus on doing the fundamental things. Their score at the end of the first half was huge for momentum and it carried into the second half.
“We made mistakes, and they were accentuated with the speed that Luers had on the field.”
The majority of that abundance of speed and athleticism that the Knights were able to deploy last season is ready to dominate again on Friday. Quarterback James Knapke may be gone, but the skill positions are still loaded with guys like Jaylon Smith, Mike Rogers, Kendrick Mullen and Tyvel Jemison.
Shutting down Luers' stars is next to impossible, with limiting their touches a more reasonable goal.
“Here is the challenge, Luers has so many speed guys, so many talented guys, in both the run and passing game, that what it does is create space,” Tippmann said. “You cannot defend them all, what you must do is defend space and defend certain formations.
“We just have to know where our defensive help is and run to the ball like crazy.”
Many have pointed to the lack of an experienced quarterback for Luers as a definite advantage for the Panthers on Friday. The Knights will likely start either junior Quinn Cook or freshman Noah Wesensky, with the prevailing thought being that Cook will get the start after seeing the majority of the first-team reps in practice in recent weeks.
But Tippmann is not ready to point to a new Luers quarterback as an advantage for his team.
“It is an unknown right now,” said Tippmann. “You knew last year that you were going against a three-year starter and knew what talents he had and how he would react in game situations. Now, we do not know much about whoever starts, but as we gameplan we know that he has been well-coached, which means he will make good decisions and get the ball to their good players.”
Without an SAC championship since 2005, the Panthers are restless when it comes to re-capturing “The Bell.” The huge senior class feels it is their responsibility to bring the title back to Snider.
“Winning the SAC has basically been our goal all off-season,” Phelps said. “It is our No. 1 goal as we enter the season, advancing to state finals and everything else is after that.”
Seven years without a conference crown is unfamiliar territory for the Snider program, but Tippmann is confident this year's team, led by the seniors, can reverse the trend.
“We have so many guys that have that immediacy of their senior year and are more focused and determined,” Tippmann said. “When there are so many kids with the same mindset, it can have a strong influence on the rest of the team.”
With such a big game looming, the collective efforts of so many will likely come down to the execution of a few, much like last year's goal-line stand by the Knights.
“Last year, we got better as the season went on, but we know we have to be ready to go first week,” Phelps said. “Nobody is going to be perfect throughout the game, but we have to make sure certain things go our way.”