Prairie City Panther gridders are ready for those Friday night lights, and they’ll be playing a new style of game — six-man football.
The Panthers’ home opener is at 7 p.m. Friday, when they host the Harper Hornets.
Prairie City head coach Nate Barber said fans should find the game riveting.
“Six-man football will be pretty exciting,” he said. “It’s pretty fast paced. It makes the kids have to be more disciplined — stay in their zones.”
Fans can expect to see a lot more passing, and Barber said that’s where returning quarterback sophomore Jayden Winegar will help the team.
“His accuracy has improved with a stronger arm,” Barber said.
“Quarterbacks do a bit of scrambling,” he added. “You have to be disciplined and stick to your receiver. Broken plays can burn you.”
The six-man game has some different rules. Three players must start on the line of scrimmage, but any player, except the passer, is eligible to catch a forward pass.
The quarterback can’t progress the ball past the line of scrimmage unless the ball is handed off or passed — although once a pass or handoff is made, he can get it back.
“You have to be creative with your play calling, but it’s still fundamental ball playing,” Barber said. “There are opportunities to come back even if you’re down.”
A first down is made in 15 yards instead of 10, and the length of periods is 10 minutes.
A field goal is 4 points. An extra point or points can be earned after a touchdown with 1 point for a successful pass or scrimmage or 2 points for a successful place or drop kick.
This is Barber’s second year as head coach, and the year before that he was assistant coach.
His assistants this year are Crockett Packard and Zach DeRosier.
He said a good attitude from the team is creating a positive atmosphere, and he’s seeing strength in his team.
The coach said sophomore Declan Zweygardt is returning with “size, hustle and strength.” As a running back and receiver, the coach said he’s an “intelligent football player — disciplined and strong.”
Senior Wyatt Armstrong, who transferred from Burnt River School in Unity, is a running back, receiver and backup quarterback.
“He’s stepping into a leadership role as a senior,” Barber said.
“Jake McHatton anchors the line offensively and defensively,” he added. “Bladen Burril is another part of the line that is strong — an excellent blocker.”
He said McHatton, a senior, is center, and Burril, a sophomore, will also play that position.
Freshman Marcus Judd is also stepping up and filling in spots, the coach said.
Barber said he’s happy to see the numbers on the roster spread out among the grades with three seniors, three juniors, four sophomores and four freshmen.
Senior Lane Williams said he’s looking forward to the season.
“This is my last year, and I’ve never seen a team with as much intensity as these guys,” he said.
Armstrong said, with the team getting into shape, he’s expecting a good season.
Senior Jonathan Lawrence said the six-man game is faster than they originally thought.
“We just need to prepare for it to get faster and faster,” he said. “We’ve got size and speed — a little bit of everything. I’m glad to have these guys as my teammates.”
Prairie City will face eight opponents in the 1A Special District 5: Burnt River, Dayville/Monument, Echo, Harper, Huntington, Joseph, Mitchell/Spray/Wheeler and South Wasco County.
Barber expects Joseph, Echo, Dayville/Monument and Harper will be their toughest opponents.
He said Joseph has some athletic players, and Echo has a couple good receivers.
“Dayville/Monument seemed pretty tough,” he said. “They have speed and pretty big guys.”
Six-man is in a pilot-program stage for two years. Then, if coaches choose to move forward, playoffs will be held in the 2020 season.
Barber said his team is learning to do a few plays well and will add more as the season progresses.
“We want to be one of the tougher teams in the east, so we can go against the west in the playoffs,” he said.
2018 Prairie City football schedule
Sept. 7: vs. Harper at 7 p.m.
Sept. 14: @ South Wasco County in Maupin at 5 p.m.
Sept. 21: vs. Joseph at 6 p.m.
Sept. 28: vs. Echo at 7 p.m.
Oct. 5: @ Huntington at 1 p.m.
Oct. 12: vs. McKenzie at 7 p.m.
Oct. 19: vs. Burnt River at 7 p.m.
Oct. 26: @ Mitchell/Spray/Wheeler in Mitchell at 2 p.m.