Some of the seniors on Centralia’s football team couldn’t help but admit that this week feels differently than others. The fact that it’s homecoming week adds some excitement for the seniors experiencing it for the final time, but the team’s energy is different this week mostly because it’s Mexico Week.
The schools are natural rivals because of proximity and a longtime history of meetings on the gridiron. In any given year, the game between the Panthers and the Bulldogs would be physical and highly-anticipated; this year, there is even more at stake. Not only did Mexico bounce Centralia in the first round of the postseason last year, 53-40, but in 2017, the last time Centralia started a season 5-0, the Bulldogs won a nail-biter to end the winning streak.
For that reason, Centralia head coach Jim Newsted said that games against Mexico are always “throw out the record” type of games. Despite Centralia being 5-0 and Mexico being 2-3, the outcome is unpredictable. One aspect of the game that is to be expected, however, is the physicality.
Trevor Bodine, a senior tight end for the Panthers, said that while football is inherently a physical sport, the games against Mexico have a tangibly different feel to them. On the field, the chatter between the teams gets louder and more frequent than in a usual game. Senior running back and linebacker Grafton Littrell said that there is always trash talking during the game against Mexico, but not so much off the field. The rivals have a mutual respect for each other, no matter how nasty the game gets.
While the Panthers’ seniors remember the game from two years ago, they feel like this year’s team is different than in years past. It’s partly because of a concerted effort to lead by example and hold others accountable, and because this year’s team is especially scrappy and tough. Some of Centralia’s players would be considered small for their positions, so they have to be extra physical and extra athletic to make up for it.
Newsted said that physicality is not something that he had to instill in a lot of his players.
“Either you’re a physical player or you’re not,” said Newsted.
In the playoff-like atmosphere Friday against Mexico, Newsted will lean on Littrell and Bodine heavily, both as players and leaders. Newsted said that in high school football, getting players to buy in is one of the pillar necessities for a team to be successful. While a 5-0 start keeps team morale high on the Panthers’ sideline, the reason for the record in the first place is the attitude of the players, according to Newsted.
With each week and each practice, Newsted has the same message for each one of his players; There are 11 starters on the field at a time for the team, and if each player does their “one-eleventh” then good results will follow.
A Centralia win Friday would be “huge” according to players, and it will take a total team effort in order for the Panthers to beat Mexico for the first time since 2011. The next installment of the rivalry is set for 7 p.m. on Friday at Centralia.