Close games have been the rule more often than the exception when border rivals Carroll County and Gallatin County have squared off on the gridiron. But coach Tim Browning's Wildcats made a big exception to that rule on Oct. 4 by hanging a 48-13 thumping on the Panthers' in Carroll's homecoming game.

The Panthers now have a chance to square the slate with the Wildcats this Friday when the two teams clash in Warsaw during the second round of the Class 2A KHSAA Gridiron Bowl Playoffs. The winner advances to the next round against either Walton-Verona or Newport Central Catholic.

Carroll County head coach Mike Weedman, while admitting Gallatin County has a quality team and quality players, knows his team is capable of playing much better football than the previous meeting.

"We've had good practices this week and anything can happen," Weedman said. "This is a perfect example of 'throw out all the stats.'

"Gallatin County won the district and advanced last week and it was well-deserved. They're a good team and do a lot of things well," Weedman added. "History dictates Friday's game should be one of the greatest meetings between the two teams."

One of Weedman's biggest concerns is putting a lid on his team's penalties and turnovers. Carroll County had one of its better offensive games of the season in the earlier meeting with Gallatin County and gained 330 yards on the night. However, penalties and fumbles negated all of that and prevented Carroll from scoring more times than not.

"We've got to play mistake-free football," Weedman said. "Mistakes can't continue. We've got to clean it up.

"We should have had a lot more points with that many yards," Weedman said. "Most importantly, we must protect the football."

The Panthers gained 287 yards on the ground in last Friday's 29-21 playoff win at Newport. Running back Jacob Wise led the way with 106 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Other backs Blake Newby and Keifer McIntyre rushed for 89 and 80 yards, respectively, and McIntyre scored a touchdown. Newby also caught a TD pass from quarterback John Michael Adams.

"He's (Adams) had a great season," Weedman said. "He doesn't get enough credit because his work load is a huge task. He stays cool and always delivers, even when he's punting."

Carroll County's defense played a big difference in the win as well, limiting Newport to 60 yards on the ground and also picking off three passes - two by Newby and a third by defensive back Raven Labrada.

Defensive end Caleb Guenthner led the Panthers with 11 tackles - nine of which were sol0 - to go with three game-changing sacks. Linemen Ryan Davidson, Josh Gibbs, Labrada and linebacker Cameron Rose added six tackles each.

"Caleb (Guenthner) is a one-man crew, but our entire defensive line put pressure on Newport last week," Weedman said. "Josh Gibbs also had a good game."

The Panthers' defense has a tall order coming up Friday against the Wildcats, which feature one of the top passing attacks statewide in Class 2A.

Wide receiver Nate McCoy is currently first in the state with 1,062 yards on 47 catches and 13 touchdowns. Quarterback Austin Chapman is fourth in passing yards with 1,930 and has 21 touchdown passes against just six interceptions. Running back Chris Brown compliments the passing attack with 675 yards on the ground for 10th-best in Class 2A.

Chapman threw for 243 yards and four touchdowns against Carroll in the earlier meeting. McCoy caught three passes for 97 yards and a touchdown and fellow wideout Jeff Eversole caught two TD passes for 85 yards.

Weedman has been impressed with McCoy's performance this season.

"He's as fine of a receiver as I've coached against and Chapman is as good of a quarterback," Weedman said. "One of our big objectives will be to stop McCoy and others on the deep routes."

Weedman said the Panthers have had a good week of practice and he welcomes a chance to play in the second round of the tournament for the first time since 2003. Carroll County will be seeking its second-ever trip to the round of eight and first since 1985.

"Everybody's excited about the opportunity to advance in the playoffs," Weedman said. "We're evaluating the good and bad things and we'll adjust accordingly."