INDEPENDENCE — The Panthers are in the playoffs.
Central earned a share of the Mid-Willamette Conference title on Friday, defeating Woodburn 65-0.
The Panthers took control right from the start, returning the opening kickoff for a score, followed by a touchdown on the team’s first offensive play of the game.
Running back Alvin Berroa ran for 237 yards and three touchdowns during the win.
“Our focus all week was to play our brand of football,” Central coach Shane Hedrick said. “Going into a game like that with it being the last regular season game of the year and other teams needing to win and do some things, you certainly want to be playing at a high level.”
The Panthers (6-3 overall, 5-2 MWC) enter the state playoffs as the seventh seed and will host Hillsboro Friday at 7 p.m.
Hillsboro finished third in the Northwest Oregon Conference with a 7-2 record overall. The Spartans’ losses came against Liberty and Wilsonville, the top two finishers from the league. Each of Hillsboro’s seven wins came by at least 10 points.
“Now that we’re in playoff mode, there’s more urgency with our preparation and planning,” Hedrick said. “We feel (Hillsboro is) a very good team and played some very good football in their conference. Two years ago when we made the classification switch, they were in 6A when we were in 4A. They bring a lot of kids to the game. They have a deep depth chart and there are challenges there we’ll have to overcome.”
Central began its weekly preparation a day early, calling in players on Sunday to look at film.
The Panthers enter the postseason on a three-game win streak and have scored at least 33 points in each of its last five games.
“The biggest difference is our team is gelling and playing more mature football,” Hedrick said.
Berroa, a junior, finished the regular season with 1,329 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground, while fellow junior Peter Mason had 575 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. Sophomore quarterback Peter Mendazona threw for 1,384 yards and 17 touchdowns. Junior Marlon Tuipulotu recorded 65 tackles and 10 sacks on defense, and senior Madison Stepp had five receiving touchdowns.
“One of the things we’ll always battle at Central because of our numbers is that we rely on each class to contribute to the program,” Hedrick said. “This year that has been highlighted. We have four-plus sophomores who are contributing in a good, solid manner. Each week the kids get a little bit better and more acclimated. The fundamentals are there at the beginning and they should be able to prosper and grow.”
The Panthers also look forward to a home field advantage.
“The Monmouth-Independence area is a very supportive community. When we have home games, our crowds show up and really support their team,” Hedrick said.
The winner of Friday’s matchup advances to the second round on Nov. 13 against the winner of Silverton versus Crater.
With a showdown against Hillsboro looming on Friday, Hedrick said players are excited to begin what they hope is a long playoff run.