Patriots begin postseason run tonight

In the first postseason meeting since the 2009 season, the Palestine-Wheatley Patriots will play Mountain Pine’s Red Devils in a Class AA first-round state playoff game tonight at Patriot Field.

Coming in, Mountain Pine has rebounded this season from an 0-10 campaign last year to finish 7-3 and clinching a postseason berth.

Traveling to Palestine-Wheatley in the first round of the Class AA playoffs tonight, the resurgent Red Devils have their sights set on making a postseason run.

After a blistering start to conference play with five straight wins, Mountain Pine suffered consecutive losses to Mount Ida and Foreman to close the regular season.

The two teams last played in the first round of the 2009 state playoffs with the Red Devils taking the win, the first playoff victory for the Red Devils since the 1985 season and the first playoff appearance for the Patriots since 2004.

Tonight marks the first home playoff game for Palestine-Wheatley since that 2004 season, when that team reached the third week of the playoffs by defeating Cross County and Lavaca before losing to Rison.

Palestine-Wheatley comes into tonight’s state playoff game at 8-2 overall and like the Red Devils, have their sights set on making a solid postseason run.

Under the guidance of first-year coach Carey Knowlton, the 6AA No. 3-seeded Palestine-Wheatley Patriots are a relative newcomer to the postseason dance.

Palestine-Wheatley averaged more than 32 points per game this season and topped the 40-point plateau on four separate occasions. Surrendering 47 points per game over the last three weeks, Mountain Pine head coach Sam Counce said his Red Devils have made some changes defensively to combat the Patriots’ firepower.

Citing the strength of schedule, Hooten’s Arkansas Football has made Mountain Pine the eight-point road favorite over Palestine-Wheatley in a match up of its 16th-and 17th-ranked Class 2A teams.

Tonight’s winner will be on the road for a second round playoff game next week, unless fifth-seeded Salem upsets top-ranked Hector tonight, which would give tonight’s Palestine Wheatley/Mountain Pine winner a home game next week.

Palestine-Wheatley fell behind early in losses to conference rivals Hazen (45-0) and McCrory (36-16). After the McCrory loss, the Patriots won the next four before losing to Hazen in the regular season finale.

Mountain Pine's last playoff victory came against Palestine-Wheatley, 41-14 in 2009.

Counce is 7-13 in two years at Mountain Pine.

Winning only one game in its previous five seasons, the playoffs are a new experience for nearly everyone on Mountain Pine's roster. The lone exception is senior running back Fay Haywood, who started at quarterback for last year’s 6A-West No. 3 seed Lake Hamilton Wolves before transferring to Mountain Pine this season.

Palestine-Wheatley, making a  second consecutive state playoff appearance, lost 34-14 to Camden Harmony Grove in last year’s Class AA state playoffs.