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Aggies Head to Phoenix to Face the Firestorm

By Alyssa Fox on 10/12/2017 Panhandle State Football travels to Phoenix this week to take on No. 16 Arizona Christian. Panhandle State Football travels to Phoenix this week to take on No. 16 Arizona Christian.

Goodwell, Okla.—Panhandle State Football is 4-1 in the season so far, and this week the team travels to Phoenix, Ariz. to face the No. 16 Arizona Christian University Firestorm for what will be a true barometer game for the Aggies.

With only one loss to their name, Panhandle Football is rising in the ranks, though they still have sundry goals to reach. The Aggies had hoped to lead the league in turnover margin, but having fallen short so far, needing to up the ante on ball security. "Ownership of the football is important," says Head Coach Russell Gaskamp, "We need to treat the ball [as it deserves.]" The Aggies have also experienced some fallback on pre-snap penalties in previous games, so mental acuity and focus before the snap will take a front seat on this road trip to Phoenix.

Panhandle State is currently in a three-way tie leading the CSFL with Langston and SAGU, but Arizona Christian is close behind. The Firestorm is led by senior quarterback Ryan Esslinger, who is known for throwing the ball very well, especially under pressure. Amidst a slew of talented receivers, at 6'4" and 207 lbs., the Firestorm's senior Tyler Dunken presents a matchup-nightmare in the slot. The Aggies will need to push themselves on both sides of the ball to hone both pass coverage and pass game efficiency.

"We will need to be sharper going into this game," says Gaskamp. He continues, "We need to work on cleaner protection of our QB," hoping his offensive line can give senior quarterback D.J. Scott the time he needs to assess the field and make plays in the pocket. The ACU defense is high in the ranks of the best defense in the league, and Coach Gaskamp is looking for his team to step up and take on the physicality of their D-line players. "This game [is the equivalent] of being circled in red on the calendar," says Gaskamp.

The Aggies will gain the reemergence of junior Dante Shipman this week, after he was sidelined for the game against Lyon College. "He will be able to help us with the pass coverage for sure," says Gaskamp, eager to have his defensive back returning to the field.

ACU poses a tough challenge this week for the Aggies, but the coaching staff believes the team definitely has winning potential to be taken advantage of. A nearly fifteen-hour bus expedition yields the longest road trip of the year for the Aggies, but the team will be leaving early this week on Thursday to give the athletes an extra day to recuperate from the lag and focus on the game ahead. The Aggies will hope to put out the flame of the Firestorm and return to No Man's Land Stadium in good standing to defend their home turf in the following weeks against the tough matchups of SAGU and Langston.

Hard work and a champion mindset have kept the Aggies fighting for first, and Gaskamp and his team are looking to continue their accomplished ascent; "We want to be as good as we think we have a chance to be."

This week's contest was voted the NAIA Game of the Week in a Facebook fan poll, bringing national attention to the team from Goodwell. The Aggies kick off against the Firestorm this Saturday, Oct. 14 at 7 p.m. Alumni, fans and families unable to make the road trip can follow along with live video streaming and stats of the game at opsuaggies.com.


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