Just a few months ago, the Wink football team faced a tough stretch of three road games to kick off its 2021 football season.
The Wildcats came away with two wins in those contests and they learned what needed to be fixed if they wanted to make some noise later on in the campaign.
Those lessons resonated and have pushed Wink to a five-game winning streak, which includes a recent 64-26 area round victory over Clarendon in the Class 2A Division II playoffs.
“I knew early on we would have a hard time, we had three road games in a row and we had a very young team,” Wink head coach Brian Gibson said. “I knew that playing some tough games early would prepare them, it would help them grow up quick and kind of battle test us through this stretch.”
Playing a tougher nondistrict schedule has correlated directly with playoff success Wink has achieved over the past few years, Gibson added.
This is the second time over the past three seasons that the Wildcats have advanced to the third round of the playoffs, setting up to face Stratford at 3 p.m. Friday at Lowrey Field in Lubbock.
The last time both teams faced off was in 2019, with Stratford defeating the Wildcats by a 42-13 to advance to the state semifinals.
Some of Wink’s current players were part of that team and they got a firsthand look at what Stratford had to offer in terms of talent and athleticism.
Mack Payne has seen the Wildcats fall in the area round twice in his time with the program and he was a sophomore when they went four rounds deep.
He said it felt good to be part of the group that helped Wink push past the second round hump this year.
“It’s really good because we’re not a team that wants to be taken lightly,” Payne said. “I feel like where we left off last year was a disappointment and by getting over the hump this year, we’re showing the state and everyone who we really are.”
Payne has been instrumental in Wink’s late season surge, along with quarterback/linebacker Kanon Gibson.
The junior signal caller has posted big numbers on offense and defense, turning it up on both sides as the team prepared for the playoff push.
Kanon Gibson has thrown for 2,769 yards and 34 touchdowns to go with 1,387 yards on the ground and 21 rushing scores.
He has also contributed 146 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and four interceptions.
The quarterback believes his extensive time on the field has helped him slow the game down.
“Even early in this season, the game was kind of really fast and I was not getting through my reads,” Kanon Gibson said. “Our coaches have done a great job of helping me get the ball out quick and taking shots when I need to take shots, which is a huge part of our success as an offense.”
During Wink’s five-game winning streak, the younger Gibson has thrown 21 touchdowns to one interception.
He has strengthened his connection with his group of receivers, which includes Braden Dunlap, Jordan Tally and Kalonji Martin.
The attention to detail that every receiver puts into their routes is helping the offense generate yardage and points at a high rate, Brian Gibson said.
“We’re really blessed with some really talented receivers,” the head coach said. “They do a really good job of catching the football, they understand that it’s their job to run good routes.
“They may or may not get the ball, but in our offense running a good, sharp and crisp route keeps the secondary honest even when we’re running the football.”
Wink’s use of the run-pass option in its offense has helped multiple players put up productive seasons, including freshman Hudson Morgan who has 461 yards on 56 carries throughout the campaign.
The Wildcats’ head coach believes both Wink and Stratford match up evenly, meaning their contest could come down to one or two plays on either side of the ball or special teams.
Kanon Gibson feels up to the challenge and anything his team might face when it takes the field.
“We think that, really it’s just going to come down to the little things and who does that the best,” he said.
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