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Western can take giant step toward playoffs, but has to get past tough rival first

 By Mike Moore

Staff Writer

 Parma – It happened in his very first season, the very first time he coached against Northwest.

Western football coach Dave Mifsud had heard about the rivalry the two schools shared, “but in that game I learned what it was all about,” he said.

“It’s two schools of similar size. The area around Northwest and the area around Western, it’s kind of similar,” he added. “Yet there seems to be that feeling of dislike from both ends. I picked up on that right away.”

The year was 2013, and en route to a 5-4 season, Northwest blew past Western 40-13 in Week 8, “and they didn’t call the dogs off,” Mifsud said with a laugh.

There’s no laughing matter some two years later, though, as the Panthers are two wins away from the program’s first ever playoff berth, with two games to play.

And Week 8 is a short trip up to Northwest.

“And we expect them to bring everything they’ve got against us,” Mifsud said of the Friday night tilt in Mountie territory.

Coming off a 12-7 loss to Lumen Christi last week, the Panthers are 4-3 with two very winnable games remaining.

They close the season with an 0-7 Dexter team that’s scored 17 points since Week 2.

But first things first, an 0-7 Northwest team that’s been shutout in consecutive weeks and was held to less than 60 yards of total offense in a 49-0 loss to Marshall last Friday.

“And we are taking nothing for granted,” Mifsud said, an almost promising tone to his voice.

He needn’t look far to remember last year’s game, when Northwest was 0-7 but held a lead against Western until the final 24 seconds of regulation.

“A year ago they changed form a spread offense and went to a power-I, and they rammed it down our throat the whole time,” Mifsud said. “They kept the ball away from us. I expect them to do the same.”

As for what his guys need to do?

“Weather the storm, especially early on,” Mifsud said. “In a game like this, you can’t shoot yourself in the foot.”

Mifsud and his guys understand what’s possible. There’s a belief this is a playoff team. It requires to more wins against teams with a combined 0-14 record.

“And is sounds cliché, but it really is one game at a time,” Mifsud added. “If we can get the Northwest win under the belt, then we can worry about the next game.”

And then, the focus can possibly shift to a land never traveled before — the postseason.

 More than football

The annual rivalry game between Northwest and Western will also do some good away from the field, as the two teams are teaming up for the first ever Hunger Bowl.

Fans are being encouraged to bring donations for local food banks.

Donations include items like cereal, peanut butter, canned food, rice and pasta, along with toiletries, like toilet paper, toothpaste, soap and tooth brushes.

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