Lena-Winslow has in its crosshairs the football program's fifth Class 1A state championship in the past 11 postseasons. Only Carrollton, which has made it this far just once before, stands in its way.
Le-Win can complete its mission starting at 10 a.m. Friday inside NIU's Huskie Stadium in DeKalb. Le-Win has outscored its first four playoff opponents 174-55, and its star halfback Marey Roby looks as strong as ever, putting up a career-high 257 yards rushing in the quarterfinals, and another 143 in Saturday's semis to give him a total of 735 yards and 13 TDs in the four-game swing.
He feels comfortable with the players he has around him, and it's showing on the field.
"A lot of us guys have been playing football together since like first grade, and this is what we've been waiting for," Roby said. "I've always been the little shifty kid who could just make people miss.
"Well, now let's really see."
Le-Win is now 17-1 in the postseason since 2017, and the Panthers have hammered teams along the way. They have scored more than 50 points nine times in the playoffs during that stretch (and 49 twice), and they have beaten teams down in all phases of the game so far this postseason.
"These are the games, with all the fans and all the pressure, these are the games we love," linebacker Brody Mahon said. "And our coaches have all been through this, and have done what it takes to win here, so they know what to do. And we know to listen to them.
"It's just a matter of keeping it rolling."
Carrollton (12-1) is on a bit of a roll itself, however. It held an 18:08-5:52 time of possession advantage in the second half of its 28-14 semifinal win on Saturday, doing something to Moweaqua Central A&M that Le-Win has consistently done to its foes — controlling the ball.
"That's where championships are won, up front, and we've been good up there," Carrollton coach Nick Flowers said. "Our biggest goal for Friday is to set the edge and allow our defensive speed to rally to the ball. ... I don't know if we can slow (Roby) down, but without a doubt we're going to challenge him."
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Le-Win (11-2) lost a pair of regular-season games. The Panthers lost to NUIC champion Durand/Pecatonica (30-24), which dropped out in the second round of the 3A playoffs, and to Forreston (22-20) in the regular-season finale. Le-Win avenged the second loss in the second round of the playoffs.
But Roby, and the entire Panthers team, is playing its best football down the stretch.
"The last four weeks, he's really been the heart and soul of our team," Le-Win coach Ric Arand said of Roby. "We rode him for four weeks, and we're going to ride him again on Friday morning, too."
Who to watch
The Panthers will look to get Roby to the outside, while Carrollton will look to stop it from happening. One of Carrollton's best weapons in that regard is the coaches' son, Hayden Flowers, a 6-foot-1, 210-pound senior defensive end with speed.
When they get the ball on offense, they will lean on their multi-dimensional quarterback, Grant Pohlman. He ran for three touchdowns and threw for a fourth to running back Harley Angel when Carrollton knocked off Moweaqua Central A&M; he was a big reason why the Hawks racked up 329 yards offense. Pohlman rushed for 143 yards on 33 carries, and Angel added 78 yards on 11 carries. Pohlman also completed 9 of 19 passes for 93 yards, including 89 yards in the first half.
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Le-Win expects to see a balanced attack from Carrollton. The Panthers have shown they can slow down a spread offense, however, doing it twice in the postseason, and four out of five times in the regular season.
"The key this week is the same that it's been all season long: We have to win it on the offensive and defensive lines," Arand said. "We have to shut down their run game, which will be no easy task.
"This group of seniors has really stepped up so far, though. ... They need to do it one more time."
This article originally appeared on Rockford Register Star: IHSA football: Lena-Winslow vs. Carrollton in 1A championship