BETHEL - The Cayuga Wildcats got a taste of going up against West Texas football last year.
The Wildcats will be facing that same kind of football team as Cayuga returns to the Class A, Division II state championship game. The Wildcats play Albany at 3 p.m. Saturday at Vernon Newsom Stadium in Mansfield.
"It is definitely a different style of football than we see around here," Cayuga head coach Tommy Allison said. "These guys will line up and pound it right at you and try to be more physical."
Cayuga gets back to the state championship game after falling to Stratford for last year's title. The Wildcats hope that last year's experience against a West Texas team will help this time around.
"It feels great to get back, these kids put in a lot of hard work to accomplish this," Allison said.
Allison believes his team will have to have a physical mindset as the Wildcats prepare for Albany.
"We are going to have to match them on both sides of the ball," Allison said.
The Albany defense may be the backbone of the Lions' squad. The defense has allowed only 8.4 points a game and 164 yards a game. The Albany defense starts with its line, led by tackle Yahsh Hawkins.
"Their defensive line is big and physical," Allison said. "They try to control the offensive line with those four kids."
Albany tries to force offenses to double-team on the line which allows linebacker Elijah Hudson to run free and he has made over 150 tackles this season.
"Our offensive line is going to have to maintain their blocks and we have to make sure we get to that linebacker," Allison said.
The Cayuga offensive line has been one of the strengths for the Wildcats during their playoff run. Senior offensive lineman Tramon Shead said Saturday's game will be like back in two-a-days when Cayuga did three-on-two tackling drills known as "blood alley".
"We know we are going to have to be physical on every snap," Shead said. "We are going to have to line up and take care of the person on the other side."
Albany's physical style of play also goes into its offense, which is based out of the I-formation.
The Lions are a run-oriented squad led by Hudson, who has 2,473 rushing yards and 38 touchdowns.
"He is a very hard runner, we does a good job finding the cuts," Allison said. "It takes more than one person to bring him down."
While Albany is a run-first offense, the Lions do not have a run-only offense. Albany quarterback Leif Johnston has thrown for 1,568 yards and 20 touchdowns, including three touchdown passes last week in a 28-14 win over Stratford in the state semifinals.
The Lions have a pair of go-to receivers in Jason Brothers (26 catches for 688 yards and 11 touchdowns) and Jeremy Corbin (25 catches for 593 yards and six touchdowns).
"They do a good job on play-action passing," Allison said. "We are going to have to do a good job sticking to our responsibilities and playing good team defense."
Both teams have made the state championship game by forcing turnovers and that could be a major key Saturday afternoon. Cayuga knows from experience how much turnovers can hurt as the Wildcats had five turnovers against Stratford in last year's state championship game, including fumbling the ball on their first two possessions.
"It is hard to overcome when you turn the ball over against quality teams," Allison said. "When playing in a game of this magnitude, it is crucial to hold onto the football."
Notes: Albany enters Saturday undefeated at 15-0. In the last two years, the Lions are 29-1 with their lone loss coming to Stratford in last year's state semifinal game. ...Albany is making its fifth appearance in the state championship game and the first since 1991. Cayuga is making its second appearance in the state title game. ...Cayuga running back Traylon Shead will have one last game to add onto his record for total career touchdowns. Shead has 143 touchdowns to go along with 10,147 career rushing yards. He will finish second in all-time rushing yards.