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1. The who and when
The quest for a state championship heats up on Thursday when the 2017 playoffs kick off across the state. Neligh-Oakdale makes their return to the playoffs after a forced one-year layoff. They will travel to Nebraska City to take on Lourdes Central Catholic at 5:30 p.m. Clearwater-Orchard is also back in the playoffs, this time as an eighth seed. They will host ninth-seeded Perkins County at 3 p.m in Clearwater.
2. How's the weather?
Hold on to your hats! No, seriously. It is going to be windy. Whether you are staying here or heading to Nebraska City, it is going to be a windy day. Gusts may even reach up to 50 miles per hour. With that, comes some chilly weather. Bundle up. The high is expected to be in the mid-60's, but it certainly won't feel like it with that north wind in your face.
3. Neligh-Oakdale has grown up fast
Just about everyone associated with the Warriors is trying to forget that week one loss to Creighton. However, since then, Neligh-Oakdale has seen its fair share of trials and victories, giving this young team plenty of chance to grow up. The best part about that growth is that the run defense has really stepped up. In late October and early November, there is no better winning formula than controlling the ground game.
4. Clearwater-Orchard has the talent to go far
The Cyclones made a quick exit last year, falling in the first round to the eventual state runner-ups. However, this year, all but two of those kids are back. They are bigger, stronger and faster. They are also proven, with a win over the defending state champion Burwell and a near win over Chambers/Wheeler Central/Ewing. If the Cyclones can stay healthy, fans may be making lunch plans in Lincoln on November 20.
5. First round predictions
Neligh-Oakdale is stepping into a huge challenge for their young team. LCC has been among the top teams in the state the past three seasons. They will give the Warriors all they can handle. If the Warrior defense continues its strong streak and the offense takes care of the ball, they will move on.
Clearwater-Orchard has a matchup with a very run-heavy team. Perkins County is averaging more than 300 yards per game on the ground. However, much of that came in their wins over teams that won four or less games this year. The Cyclone defense is going to be far too strong in this one and their offense will spread the ball around as usual. They win and move on.