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Parkview faces big test in opener

After missing the postseason last year for the first time since 1993, Parkview will find out if it has a playoff caliber team tonight.

The Panthers will host DeKalb County neighbor and No. 6-ranked Stephenson in a rematch of the 2005 Class AAAAA quarterfinals that the Jaguars won.

"They were really tough that game and quick," Parkview coach Cecil Flowe said. "It's the same thing this year."

Stephenson has been one of Class AAAAA's top teams over the last 10 years. The Jaguars have reached the playoffs every year since 2000, compiling a 99-24 record.

Stephenson has produced dozens of college players, including having 26 sign on National Signing Day in February. This year's team features another talented class with four players already committed to Division I program and another eight with Division I offers or interest. It's easily the most talented group of college prospects Parkview will face this season.

"Oh yeah. They are preseason ranked this year and they are loaded," Flowe said. "They are loaded everywhere."

Stephenson is led by running back Willie Davis, a South Florida commitment who rushed for more than 700 yards on limited carries last season.

Tarik Cook, a 6-foot-2, 290-pound center, has committed to Central Florida, defensive back Jared Boyd is headed to Duke and David Stevenson to Connecticut.

"You've got to be in the right place to try to slow them down and execute some plays," Flowe said.

It's been five years since Parkview last played Stephenson and since then things haven't been the same for the Panthers.

That was the last time Parkview reached the third round of the postseason, an impressive 11-year run. Since then the Panthers have lost in the first round three years in a row and missed the postseason last year.

The recent decline has motivated this year's senior class, looking to bring prominence back to the proud program. A strong defense should help with that.

Parkview has six of its front seven back, led by linebacker Kenny Flowers, who posted 72 tackles and seven sacks last season. Raphael Kirby was the team's leading tackler with 93 stops and returns at middle linebacker.

Parkview was barely able to get any work done in its scrimmage against West Forsyth last Friday. The Panthers ran seven plays before inclement weather halted the rest of the scrimmage.

Jack Esmonde will take the reigns at quarterback after seeing action late last season when starter Kalik Barnes was injured.

Tonight's game will be a good test for the junior, but it won't get any easier on the Panthers' schedule. Parkview travels to perennial Region 7-AAAAA power Norcross next week before entering Region 8-AAAAA play.

"You have to play the best to get ready to play the best," Flowe said.