PREP FOOTBALL: Panthers strive to keep run alive

TRACY – The Tracy-Milroy-Balaton football team is hitting its stride at the perfect time.

The Panthers were the No. 3 seed in the Class A Section 3 Tournament and knocked off the top two seeds to advance to the state football tournament for the first time since 1984, when Tracy was a separate school.

“We feel like we are playing as well right now as we’ve played all year,” said TMB co-head coach Derek Flann. “We’ve hit that stride at the right time.”

The Panthers (8-3) come into the state tournament unranked, but that hasn’t fazed the team heading into their game against Bethlehem Academy (8-3), which will take place at Rochester Community & Technical College at 1 p.m. Saturday.

The Cardinals are coming off a trip to the state championship game a year ago.

“They are pretty experienced. They lost in the state final last year,” Flann said. “They are a physical team up front, running the ball. They look like they are very athletic. They’re not overly big, but they have a lot of 200- to 205-pound kids who move well.

“It’s going to be a matter of trying to stop their back and stay balanced, not allowing them to key on anything offensively for us to be successful.”

Offensively, TMB is moving the ball well, with all areas clicking.

“We feel pretty comfortable where we are offensively right now,” said Flann. “Brett Swenhaugen, our quarterback, has been playing very well. The offensive line has been able to open up some holes.

Our receivers have been doing a good job of making plays and having tight end Josh Kirk back the last week has given us another weapon to spread the ball around to.”

Swenhaugen has completed 106 of 203 passes for 1,764 yards, 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He is also the Panthers’ top rusher, covering 884 yards and scoring 10 TDs on 181 carries.

Running back Elijah Koenig has 665 yards and 10 touchdowns in 141 carries.

Swenhaugen’s top receivers include Zach Seaton (37 catches for 575 yards, six TDs), Kirk (26 for 368, five TDs) and Austin Gleis (21 for 312, two TDs). Eric Donner has caught three touchdown passes, while Koenig has hauled in two TD receptions.

While the weapons are there, the TMB coaching staff is looking to keep their routine constant on game day, even with a bus ride that will cross the state.

“We had a two-and-a-half hour drive in the section semifinals to get to Wells and we played well there,” Flann said. “We got there early enough to get there and get their legs under them before we had to be padded up and warming up. That’s what we’re going to try and do here again.

“There are lots of distractions to deal with. It’s a matter of getting there and getting to the kickoff without the kids looking around and seeing where they are too much.”

Despite all the distractions and the success the Panthers have found on their run to the state tournament, Flann said that they can’t be satisfied with just getting there.

“We’re trying to make sure that they are not just happy to be here. We want them to understand that the season is not over just because they made the state tournament,” said Flann. “That was the goal since Day 1, to get here, and now we have to take advantage of the opportunity of being here is the next thing. The momentum has built over the past few weeks when we’ve been playing pretty well.

“That first trip to the state tournament in 30 years, we need to try to make some noise. The mentality of the kids has been pretty good. They’ve been having a lot of fun the past few weeks playing tough teams and being successful. I think we’ll go out and give it another go.”