LENA, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF)–We are in the final week of the high school football season, and the number of teams in our viewing area still practicing is one, the Lena-Winslow Panthers.

They’re getting ready for another appearance in the 1A championship game Friday morning against another undefeated team Camp Point Central.

Lena-Winslow currently has five state championships in football which ties it with Stillman Valley for the most in our immediate viewing area. Some folks on the fringes of our viewing area in Sterling know that Sterling Newman has won six championships in football.

The Panthers will try to become the first team in the area to win three consecutive state championships (albeit in four years because there were no playoffs in the 2020/Spring 2021 COVID-19 year).

I asked coach Ric Arand what impresses him the most about this group of young men that he has.

“I guess probably rebounding from all the guys we lost last year. I don’t know that most people thought that we would be in this position this year.”

The departed players from last year include Marey Roby, Luke Benson, Ethan Fye, Maddex Sargent, Brody Mahon, Brady Eilders, Tyler Croatt and Ross Stabenow. But the Panthers have surged back with the likes of Gage Dunker, Henry Engel, Gunar Lobdell, Drew Streckwald, Sam Pecoraro, Jace Flynn, Jake Zeal and others.

With the Panthers coaches and several players having been down this road before of preparing for a state championship game, is there a sense of calmness this week that other teams headed to state might not be experiencing?

“I don’t know if it’s calmness,” said Arand. “It’s overly excited I think, you know. I don’t know that it being a state championship game has kicked in yet. I think that will probably settle in about the time the bus takes off on Thursday morning.”

The Panthers are excited about playing in Champaign at the University of Illinois. Their last two championships came in DeKalb at Northern Illinois University.

Their championship game this Friday will kickoff at 10 a.m.