The Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale and Lisbon football teams have met five times in the last four years. With No. 6 on tap tonight, it’s fair to say the two know each other.

“These two teams have met in the playoffs so many times over the past few years,” Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale coach Dave St. Hilaire said. “There’s a huge history of this rivalry. … They know who’s been dominant for one team or another all the way up through. They know the names, they know the numbers.”

It hasn’t just been regular season matchups. Tonight’s final will be the third postseason game between the two teams in three years; the top-seeded Ramblers and second-seeded Greyhounds also met in the D South final in 2016 and the quarterfinals in 2017.

“I think we’re always a little extra excited to play against Winthrop,” Lisbon coach Chris Kates said. “These two teams have been playing since both of their football programs were formed. They’re a hard-hitting team, and they tend to play a style of football that we like to play as well, so it’s an enjoyable game to be in.”

Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale’s Jacob Sousa runs with the ball during a game against Spruce Mountain earlier this season in Winthrop. Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn Buy this Photo

Both teams are hoping to reverse a narrative. For the Ramblers, it’s the one that has seen the lower seed get the best of these playoff matchups. No. 2 Lisbon beat No. 1 Winthrop/Monmouth three years ago, and No. 6 Winthrop/Monmouth upset No. 3 Lisbon the following season.

“For some reason, the away team always seems to do very well,” St. Hilaire said. “That’s obviously something we don’t want to have happen this time.”

The narrative Lisbon is concerned with is more recent. The Ramblers rolled past the Greyhounds 49-14 on Sept. 28, in a rare one-sided result between the teams.

“They kind of took it to us the first time we played them,” Kates said. “They’re a tough team, well-coached, and I know they’ll be ready. But I think our kids had a good week of practice as well, and I think we’ve grown a lot since the last time we played them. Hopefully we can give the fans a show this week.”

Kates knows it won’t be simple. The Ramblers have skill players they can go to for power running, outside running and through the air, and Kates knows targeting one area is a fool’s errand.

Ian Steele (509 rushing yards, nine touchdowns), Jevin Smith (381 yards, nine touchdowns) and Logan Baird (434 yards, four touchdowns) are all averaging over eight yards per carry behind the Ramblers’ sturdy line, while Keegan Choate has passed for 1,454 yards, 23 touchdowns and only five interceptions.

“I think where a lot of teams get in trouble playing them is they try to sell out to stop one thing,” Kates said, “but they’re so diverse they can hurt you in a number of different ways. It’s important for you to not sell out so that when they come back with their counter punch, you’re in position to stop it.”

It was a group effort again when the Ramblers beat the Greyhounds — Jake Sousa led with only 46 yards rushing even though they ran for 171 yards as a team — and Ryan Baird added 94 yards and two touchdowns on five catches. The team, however, averaged only 4.3 yards per carry — its second-lowest rate of the season — and St. Hilaire said he wants the passing game to get more help from the ground attack this time.

“They won the battle on first and second down, we won the battle on third down,” St. Hilaire said. “We had four situations where we had third-and-10 or more, plus a 2-point conversion from the 18-yard line, and we converted all five. … We need to establish the run much better, especially on those first two downs.”

Lisbon’s attack is more straightforward, but also formidable. The Greyhounds can play a methodical game and pound defenses with power runners like Cam Bourget and Justin Le, or hit the outside with Daytona McIver and quaterback Seth Leeman and dare teams to catch up.

Oak Hill couldn’t in the semifinal — Lisbon ran for 411 yards on 61 carries in a 48-20 win.

“At this point in the year, we are who we are,” Kates said. “We’ve always been … a power run team, and it helps when you’ve got a couple of guys on the outside that can break a big one.”

St. Hilaire said the Ramblers can’t let the Greyhounds dictate the pace.

“They’re doubling and trying to slow the game down and shorten it. We expect to see that,” he said. “They’ve got speed, they’ve got toughness, they’ve got quickness on the line. They definitely pose a good matchup for us.”

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