As much as things change, they stay the same. At least where the Illinois High School Association Class 5A playoffs are concerned.
For the second consecutive year, the Marion Wildcats will play the Triad Knights in the first playoff round. And the biggest obvious difference is that the teams will play in Troy this year.
"It's pretty uncommon when you consider all of the things that could transpire," said Marion coach Kerry Martin about playing the same opponent on consecutive seasons. "But here we are. It is the way it is. They have a great tradition, a good program and they are a very physical team."
For Triad, the main players are the same. The option-oriented offense will be led by quarterback Tyler Cain, who leads the team in rushing with 1,061 yards. Fullback Trevor Medved is the second-leading rusher with 1,015 yards. The two have combined two-thirds of the Knights total yards on offense. Triad has passed for only 184 of its 3,293 total offensive yards.
"There's no secret," Martin said. "There is no mystery behind it. This is what they are going to do. I heard someone say once that every great team has a lot of tendencies and they pride themselves in doing what they do and making you stop it."
So Martin fully expects the Knights to keep the ball in the hands of Cain and Medved, and force the Wildcats to play defense.
"He's [Triad coach Paul Bassler] not going to change much because of Marion," Martin said. "He's going to do what he does and make us stop it."
The fact the game play hasn't changed much means it may be easier for Marion to prepare. Martin believes it will be easier for Triad to prepare as well.
"I think for them it's the same way," Martin said. "We haven't changed a lot. They will see the same stuff Marion does. Same base defense and offense. Both teams are kind of evened up as far as the advantage we may have."
Marion's same offense will have different players than last year. Matt Lewis (1,331 yards, 11 TDs, 4 INT) has moved into the quarterback role in place of Brett Bradley, who is now a tight end and receiver in the Marion offense.
Lewis' favorite target is senior Jay Riley, who has caught a team-high 31 passes for 504 yards and three touchdowns. Speedy Cedrick Neal has 17 catches and two touchdowns.
Junior fullback Henry Jones has run for 580 yards, nearly all of which has come in the last three games in place of the injured Shekeil Ivy. The jury is still out on whether or not Ivy, Marion's all-time leading rusher, will be able to play Saturday.
Ivy has practiced this week, and has medical clearance to play. Martin said the decision will be up to his senior runner.
"I don't know if Shekeil will play this week," Martin said. "My feeling is that Shekeil would play in the second round if we beat a very good Triad team. We have to let Shekeil go when he's ready and when he feels comfortable."
With similar game plans a year ago, Marion was solid defensively in a 19-10 win which saw Ivy run for 185 yards and three touchdowns. The Wildcats also held Triad to just 189 rushing yards, well under their season average.
"Option football is assignment football," Martin said. "You've got to make sure you don't have a breakdown. When your assignment's the quarterback you can't miss that tackle. Option football is very much designed to force you into a mistake or a missed tackle. They're pretty good and finding mismatches and making that happen."
Saturday's game is at 6 p.m. in Troy.