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The top-ranked Braves trail 9-0 before scoring 28 unanswered en route to a 28-22 win over the Pirates.

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Banks' Jacob Slifk puts a hit on Marshfield's Ezra Waterman during the Braves' first round playoff game against the Pirates Friday, Nov. 8, at Banks High School.You have to start somewhere.

The Banks Braves kicked off their defense of last year's state football championship with a 28-22 opening round playoff win over Marshfield Friday night, Nov. 8, at Banks High School. But while a win in the end, the game was far from the cake walk they'd become accustomed to over their last five lopsided victories — which may have been just what the doctor ordered.

""We needed this," Banks head coach Cole Linehan said about the tough game. "It's been a while, so it was good to get tested."

And they undoubtedly were.

Marshfield came out on fire, scoring on their opening possession, then adding a field goal to take an early 9-0 lead. But after a three-and-out on their first offensive possession, Banks awoke from their early slumber with a seven play, 76 yard drive, capped by a Tanner Shook to Jacob Slifka 30 yard touchdown pass, pulling the Braves to within 7-6 with 10:53 remaining in the second quarter.

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Banks' Jarred Evans stiff arms a Marshfield defender during the Braves' first round playoff game against the Pirates Friday, Nov. 8, at Banks High School."Obviously we had a rough start because we were all so excited," Slifka said. "We kind of forgot some of our responsibilities, but we picked it up, rallied together and had an awesome second quarter."

That they did.

After forcing a Pirates three-and-out on the subsequent drive, Banks wasted little time taking their first lead, going 51 yards in four plays, beginning with a 9-yard pass to Slifka, highlighted by a 23 yard pass to sophomore Charlie White, and capped by a 12 yard Martial Stehemeier touchdown run to put the Braves ahead 14-9.

They made it 21-9 nearly four minutes later when after a Marshfield fumble, Banks took over at the Pirates' 45 yard line and Shook almost immediately hit Jarred Evans on a 33 yard pass play, then two plays later found Slifka with a 17 yard fade for the duo's second scoring connection of the night.

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Marshfield quarterback Dom Montiel is sacked by a swarming Banks defense during the Pirates' first round playoff game against the Braves Friday, Nov. 8, at Banks High School."I'm always looking for Slifka and Jarred (Evans)," Shook said. "We thought they were going to show us a cover-4 look, but they came out and thought they could man us up, and Slifka had a kid six inches shorter than him on him. So what are you going to do?"

While not specifically part of the game plan, Slifka said they noticed Marshfield's smaller backers on film, so as a result he and Shook spent a little extra time this week in practice honing their skills.

"We watched a lot of film all week and Tanner and I worked on routes and high balls because we thought we had an advantage."

Linehan said it's always going to be an advantage when you have a 6-foot-5 receiver to throw to, but reiterated that they weren't entirely sure how Marshfield would play them, therefore were in somewhat of a wait-and-see mode coming into the game.

"We weren't sure how they were going to play us," Linehan said. "But we knew we had that if they pressed us up."

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Banks' Jarred Evans goes up to make a catch during the Braves' first round playoff game against the Pirates Friday, Nov. 8, at Banks High School.Banks appeared to have put the game away on the second half's opening drive, going 80 yards while salting away more than 10 minutes on the clock before Evans caught a 23 yard touchdown pass to put the home Braves ahead 28-9. But undeterred, Marshfield drove 78 yards on their next possession, then 80 yards later in the fourth quarter to cut the lead to 28-22 with 3:06 left in the game.

From there it was up to Banks to run out the clock. After a late-hit penalty gifted them 15 yards, the Braves milked two minutes off the clock before punting to the Pirates with just under a minute to play. With just 54 seconds to go 72 yards, Marshfield was found not to be up to the task, throwing four straight incompletions and turning the ball over to a Banks team more than happy to run out the clock on what was ultimately a hard-fought opening round victory.

"That was the best team we've faced all year," Shook said. "We talked all week about how this is not going to be your typical first round game. We knew it was going to be a tough hard-nosed game, and it was."

And Linehan couldn't help but agree. This was the third straight year that Banks has met Marshfield in the state playoffs, last year defeating the Pirates in the semifinals. So the Braves coach knows what the Pirates bring to the table and respected it from the onset.

"We knew they weren't a 16 seed, it was a skewed ranking," Linehan said. "So they tested us early, but I liked the way our guys fought back."

The Braves were led by Slifka and Evans who caught 9 balls for 175 yards and three touchdowns.

Stegemeier finished with 17 carries for 65 yards and a score.

Banks will face the winner of the Baker/Cascade matchup next Friday, Nov. 15, likely at Banks High School, pending field conditions.

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