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Friday Night Lights: Snapping the skid – Paradise eyes first playoff berth in nine years

By Reece Waddell | Published Wednesday, August 29, 2018
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Paradise

Paradise did not even have to win the game.

All the Panthers had to do was not lose by more than 10 points in the regular season finale to snap an eight-year playoff drought. But a 29-13 loss to rival Boyd sent the Panthers home without a postseason appearance for the ninth straight season.

“It was pretty brutal,” senior running back Jacob Robinson recalled. “You can’t undo the past. It makes everybody mad to talk about it. It’s there. It’s motivation.”

Entering his senior season, Robinson, and new head coach Joe Koch, have no intention of adding to the streak.

“To make the playoffs would be huge,” Koch said. “We don’t talk about that right now, but to get there it has to be one practice and one game at a time. For the community, it would be humongous. The people here are very realistic about their expectations, but they are also very optimistic – and so am I.”

Paradise went 3-7 and 1-4 in District 4-3A Division I last year. The Panthers faced a tough district with 3A-I runner-up Brock and will remain in the same league with them in 2018.

Dave Campbell’s Texas Football projects Brock to win newly re-aligned District 4-3A-I. Paradise is picked sixth.

Koch said his team is not focused on predictions and believes the stiff competition will only make the Panthers better.

“We know our district is very tough, and from the outside looking in, who isn’t picking Brock?” Koch said. “That’s not hard. But that’s someone you aspire to be, and that should help everyone in the district get better and up their game.”

Paradise struggled in key situations last season, dropping a double overtime game to Breckenridge and losing its last two games of the regular season to miss out on the playoffs.

To get back to the postseason, Koch knows the Panthers will need a signature win.

“The kids are working hard, but there’s going to be that game, that Waterloo, that moment, where you find yourself,” Koch said. “Which game that will be, I’m not sure. But there will come a point where our backs are against the wall, we pull it out and we turn that corner.”

PARADISE PANTHERS IN A CAPSULE

2017 record: 3-7, 1-4

Head coach: Joe Koch, first year

OVERVIEW

Paradise came close to snapping an eight-year playoff drought last season. After picking up a key win over Ponder in late October, the Panthers needed a win in their final two games. The Panthers dropped games to Bowie and Boyd to miss out on the postseason for the ninth consecutive season.

OFFENSE

Paradise averaged 21.5 points last season, relying primarily on a triple-option ground attack. The Panthers averaged 218.1 yards rushing last year.

Essig threw only 75 passes, but Koch plans to utilize the third-year starter’s arm more this season.

“We won’t be as much power running-oriented,” Koch said. “We will be a spread option, run-pass option type offense. We will throw it more.”

Paradise boasts a large junior class this season. Like Essig, many players have started the past two years.

Essig, Robinson and 6-6 tight end Mitchell Sellers were all-district selections.

Robinson led the Panthers in rushing with 986 yards and eight touchdowns on 130 carries.

“I expect him to run for more yards this year than he did last year,” Koch said. “There will be better opportunities for him. He’s very shifty and is actually our fastest person on the team. He has that wiggle and that burst. I think our offense is tailor made for both him and [Essig].”

Koch said the offense’s biggest question mark is the offensive line. The line returns Nathan Ramos and Arturo Licea. Koch said nothing is set in stone at the other three spots.

“I think for any high school, that’s the X factor,” Koch said. “Everybody knows whoever controls the line of scrimmage, it all comes down to that 18 inches of neutral zone. The framework is there for a really good line, but your line is only as good as your weakest link. You have to have five guys.”

DEFENSE

Opponents averaged 27.9 points against Paradise last season, but the Panthers’ primary struggle came on third down.

Koch pointed to many teams using fast-paced, hurry-up style offenses that strain and tire out defenses.

“Those third-and-longs, you have to get off the field,” Koch said. “When you don’t, it unravels on you. We will practice those critical situations and critical downs in a very high-intensity [atmosphere].”

To help with the third-down issues, Koch and new defensive coordinator Jon Shaw switched schemes, converting from a 3-4 to 4-6.

“It’s a fairly aggressive defense,” Koch said. “The 4-6 gives us a little flexibility. The beauty of the 4-6 is its simplicity. It’s very easy for kids to learn. Our kids are hungry for that. It fits our personality. Our kids aren’t afraid to hit you.”

Koch said the switch will allow Paradise to utilize junior safety Jack Ishmael to his fullest potential. Ishmael was a first-team all-district selection last year, intercepting four passes. He was also adept around the line of scrimmage, tallying 78 tackles and forcing a fumble.

“This defensive scheme calls for a big hitting safety who runs downhill with those ball instincts, and we have the perfect guy,” Koch said. “I think the defense we’re putting in will accentuate our strengths.”

OUTLOOK

It won’t be an easy road to the playoffs for Paradise. The Panthers will face Brock, the 2017 3A Division I runner-up, as well as several other quality opponents like Whitesboro and Pilot Point. Paradise’s season may come down to its rivalry game with Boyd Oct. 12. The team that wins that matchup will likely secure the fourth and final playoff spot from District 4-3A I. The Panthers have the talent to snap their playoff drought, but it certainly won’t be a cake walk.

Season prediction: 5-5 overall, 3-3 in 4-3A-I for fourth place

2017 PARADISE RESULTS

Holliday 42, Paradise 12
Henrietta 27, Paradise 12
Jacksboro 14, Paradise 7
Paradise 49, City View 21
Paradise 28, Early 0
Breckenridge 38, Paradise 37 (2OT)
Brock 56, Paradise 0
Paradise 35, Ponder 20
Bowie 32, Paradise 22
Boyd 29, Paradise 13

2018 PARADISE SCHEDULE

Aug. 31 … @ S&S Consolidated
Sept. 7 … Henrietta
Sept. 14 … @ Jacksboro
Sept. 21 … Callisburg
Sept. 28 … @ Whitesboro
Oct. 5 … Ponder
Oct 12 … @ Boyd
Oct. 19 … BYE
Oct. 26 … Pilot Point
Nov. 2 … @ Bowie
Nov. 9 … Brock

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