They no longer matter.
In a play-in game Friday where the two halves of Region 7AAAAA cross over to play one another, Pope (3-6) will head to Skip Pope Stadium to face Sequoyah (7-2) in what amounts to an elimination game.
The winner gets a spot in the Class AAAAA state playoffs. The loser will no longer be playing, no matter what its record is.
“We just talked about what is at stake,” Sequoyah coach James Teter said of his message to his players. “Are they ready? Yeah, they’re ready. Their mindset going into Pope, you kind of control your own destiny. Hopefully, Friday, it will work out.”
Pope, the No. 3 seed out of the southern subregion, became younger than expected as a result of a few key players from last year’s playoff team not returning this season.
After enduring growing pains, Greyhounds coach Matt Kemper said his players have made improvements in the second half of the season. What stands out the most is Pope’s ability to cut down on turnovers and generate more offensive yards. It mustered 424 yards in a 52-26 loss to Kell last Friday.
But Pope knows it will be facing its biggest test of the year when it steps on the field at Sequoyah.
“We drew a heck of a football team, and we’re playing at their place,” Kemper said.
Pope’s defense has the daunting task of trying to contain Sequoyah’s ground attack. The Chiefs are effective in running around the edge, through the middle and misdirection.
Jake Garner surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for Sequoyah in its 36-11 win over Cambridge to help the Chiefs secure the No. 2 seed from the northern subregion. He’s now at 1,080 yards on the season, on 143 carries and eight touchdowns.
Sequoyah has others who can carry the football, including quarterback Lex Lauletta, who has 713 yards and eight touchdowns. He also has eight passing touchdowns to go with his 579 passing yards.
The duo of Garner and Lauletta will be a daunting challenge for Pope’s defense, which has given up close to 40 points a game.
“We’re a running team,” Teter said. “That’s been our strength all year. We will have to move the ball running it. Hopefully, that will carry us through.
“Defensively, (Pope is) physical up front and physical at linebacker. For us, we have to control that stuff up front and be able to move the ball.”
Friday’s game will likely come down to which team can possess the ball longer.
The Greyhounds have had success offensively. First-year starting quarterback Taylor Wolf threw for 347 yards and a pair of touchdowns against Kell last Friday, and receiver Logan Carr accounted for 195 of those yards, as well as two touchdowns.
The game will also come down to Pope’s ability to get Sequoyah’s offense off the field without scoring.
“They run like a freight train coming at you,” Kemper said. “They’re solid up front. This is a senior group that has started for two to three years. They are physical and can execute well. We’re going to have our hands full. We have to find a way to get stops because they don’t hurt themselves.”