Nobody could say they were much surprised by Plymouth’s playoff-opening performance on Friday.
The Panthers were making their 11th straight postseason appearance — the longest active streak among area teams. They’d earned a coveted No. 2 seed in their bracket, the reward for a regular season that saw Plymouth finish undefeated and atop the Eastern Wisconsin Conference.
Translation: The Panthers were the easy favorite to beat seventh-seeded Marinette.
The Panthers manhandled Marinette in a Division 3 postseason game that went all Plymouth’s way from the opening coin toss. Plymouth capped an opening drive with a 30-yard touchdown pass and streaked ahead to a commanding 35-0 halftime lead — it could have been worse — and then breezed the rest of the way to a 49-16 win at home.
“We’ve got a recipe, and this is the recipe for success and it worked,” Plymouth coach Dan Knaus said after the game, crediting his players’ “physical brand of football.”
The Panthers’ defense was stifling through most of the game, allowing the Marines to get just 11 first downs on offense, to Plymouth’s 20. Marinette didn’t score until the fourth quarter.
Plymouth’s offense wasn’t too bad, either, racking up 476 yards of total offense and five touchdowns in the first half. The team threatened to score a sixth TD late in the opening half — which would have presumably sent the Panthers into intermission with as much as a 43-0 (but more likely a 42-0) lead — but an untimely holding penalty stalled the drive, and a field goal try missed.
Kollin Neils was 11-of-14 passing for 162 yards for Plymouth. He helped spark the Panthers’ offense with a long touchdown pass to Cory Unger in the first quarter, putting Plymouth ahead 7-0 early.
Eric Roberts, the Panthers’ go-to running back, averaged nearly 12 yards per carry for three touchdowns — all before halftime. Owen Henriksen and Brad Trakel added TD runs for Plymouth.
Dylan Tripoli finished off the Panthers’ highlight-reel night, returning a fourth-quarter kickoff 94 yards for Plymouth’s final touchdown. Tripoli also intercepted a pass in the Marines’ end zone.
“We came out just like we have the last couple weeks,” Knaus said. “We came out with a great first half, we had a plan, our kids executed, we didn’t make mental mistakes.
“We knew (Marinette would) be physical, and I think they were a physical football team,” he added. “But I think we’re a pretty darn physical football team.”
The Marines didn’t help themselves, frequently shooting themselves in the foot. Marinette punted only twice in the first half, though they faced plenty of fourth-and-longs in their own territory. Most of their fourth-down conversion attempts failed, frequently giving Plymouth the ball with favorable field position.
The Panthers (9-0) will face a much weightier test in their second-round game against third-seeded Seymour (8-1). The Thunder posted a 48-13 win Friday night against their first-round opponent, Kewaskum.
“We’ve got to win the first one to get to the second one,” Knauss said. He and his players have noted throughout the season they want to make a run deep into the playoffs, something the Panthers have struggled to do in recent seasons. “… All we’re taking from this one is we went 1-0, and we’ve got to go 1-0 next week.”