WAITSBURG - Waitsburg-Prescott has been here before.
Saturday's match with visiting Brewster is the first round of the Washington state class 2B playoffs and marks the third year in a row W-P, ranked No. 1 in the final prep football polls, has made it to the postseason.
W-P is flying high after putting a licking on Kettle Falls in the District 7/9 crossover play-in, and may be peaking at just the right time. Following a narrow 26-20 victory over struggling T-C Prep on Oct. 14, W-P defeated then-second-place Asotin 48-20 and Tekoa-Oakesdale-Rosalia 35-0 before dominating K-F.
"We've had two really good practice weeks, the confidence is high," W-P coach Jeff Bartlow said.
This won't be the first rodeo for Brewster either, they were knocked out by DeSales in the first round of the 2010 playoffs, but W-P has several advantages going into Saturday's 2 p.m. kickoff.
The Bears are a physical, run-first team that looks to run the ball about 70 percent of the time, Bartlow said, but if W-P's quick-strike offense can build an early lead, they may be able to take Brewster out of its comfort zone and force the Bears to throw the ball.
"We score fast a lot typically - we've got explosive athletes on the perimeter," Bartlow said. "It makes it tough for a running team because if they get behind, they have to do what they aren't good at: pass the ball more."
Sophomore halfback Josh Squires will get the majority of the carries for Brewster, Bears coach Brooks Smith said.
"He's (Squires) a really good running back," W-P coach Jeff Bartlow said. "He's pretty tough and explosive."
Smith said Squires was one of many underclassmen the Bears would rely on.
"He's (Squires) a patient runner," Smith said. "He gets in the hole, looks at his blocks and slides around to get more yards."
The Bears run an I-formation offense and will sometimes bring an extra lineman to the right side of the formation. To counter this, Bartlow said he plans switching to a 5-2 (five down linemen, two linebackers) base defense instead of a 4-3 to stop the run.
On the W-P side, senior quarterback Zach Bartlow and junior halfback Billy Brown have put up explosive numbers in the spread-option offense.
Quarterback Bartlow has averaged 156.9 yards per game through the air and 104.5 yards on the ground en route to 39 TDs, 23 of them through the air.
An equal threat to break a big run, Brown has averaged 8.7 yards per carry on 96 attempts, good for 835 yards and 8 touchdowns through 10 games.
If the past is a good indicator, W-P should already have a lead by halftime. They have out-scored opponents 243-46 in the first half thus far this season.
W-P will get a significant home-field advantage as Brewster faces a 214-mile bus ride and a stay overnight in the Tri-Cities before they take the field in Waitsburg; not to mention what should be a rowdy home crowd.
"Absolutely (W-P will have a home field advantage), it's going to be a great home crowd," coach Bartlow said. "I just really enjoyed the atmosphere and temperature last weekend (against Kettle Falls), afternoon games are great.
"If we keep doing what we are supposed to do, we'll have four games in a row at home," he said. "It's a great opportunity to play in front of the home crowd."
Game time was originally scheduled for 1 p.m., however the Bears requested kickoff to be pushed back due to the long travel time.
"A few years back we traveled down to Dayton and came out of there with a field goal victory, but the kids were dead tired by the end of it," Brooks said. "It'll take five hours on a bus (to get to Waitsburg) - its going to be a long day."
As for the high ranking, coach Bartlow said he doesn't expect it to be a problem.
"It's definitely not a distraction," he said, "we haven't paid much attention to it. It's a compliment, and our kids appreciate it, but we don't even talk about it. It's an accolade to the kids and how hard they worked, but it's not a pressure thing."
Last season, W-P made it all the way to the semifinals before falling to Colfax (ranked No. 3 this season), 21-14, at Martin Stadium in Pullman. Colfax crushed W-P 39-0 in the first round of the playoffs in 2009. In both years the Bulldogs finished as runners up in the Washington state Championships.
A rematch in the semifinals is possible if both teams win out, but Bartlow said W-P wanted to go all the way to the championship in Tacoma on Dec. 3.
"We want to keep playing," he said, "you don't stop until you lose and we want to go all the way. We're not thinking about that overtly - we take it week to week - but our goal is definitely to play in Tacoma, just like everyone else.
"They (the players) definitely want to win it this year - to finish what they didn't finish last year."