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Before the 2013 season, Montgomery football hadn't had a winning record in four years. Its rookie coach never coached the sport before. During the season, the Vikings played three games without a backup quarterback. And the most significant development for Montgomery this season was an injury.

So, while it is always wise never to jump to conclusions, I am about to set the World Record for Conclusion Jumping. And I feel certain I won't hit my head on criticism.

The Montgomery Vikings already have won, even if it's still days before they step on the field against Casa Grande Saturday night. They can't lose, even if they do. They have secured and maybe even have become the working model of the term "They Came Out Of Nowhere," a sports expression so overused it is nearly pointless to mention it.

Except in this case.

"Less than nine months ago," said coach Dean Haskins, "we were a 3-7 football team. Now we're one of only four (Division 2) teams still left in the NCS playoffs. Sure, I thought we were a playoff team when the season started, but I didn't see this coming."

Montgomery, 10-2, won as many games this season as it had in the three previous years. That has been a rocket boost to the Vikings' confidence but, frankly, will do little to sway public opinion about the outcome of Saturday's semifinal.

"All the pressure is on Casa," Haskins said. "They are supposed to win."

For those comfortable with scratching the surface and going no deeper, the Sept. 27th game, in which Casa beat Montgomery, 30-12, serves as a convenient example that history will repeat itself.

"But we are a different team now," Haskins said.

Thanks, significantly and oddly, to Elijah Higgs separating his shoulder in that Casa game. Higgs was Monty's quarterback. Oops. What to do now? Give it to R.J. Flores, cross our fingers and let's see what happens.

This is what happened: Flores threw for 1,321 yards and 15 touchdowns, with only three interceptions. Flores took the job and made it his own. He became such a fixture that when Higgs was healthy again, the coaching staff quickly came to an obvious decision.

Put Higgs and his athletic ability somewhere else, anywhere but not at quarterback. Let him catch it and run with it. Pitch him the ball and let him rip.

Heck, just let Higgs stand there, that'll make a defense nervous. It could be a double throw play.

You never know.

After all, Higgs was a quarterback.

"In a way it kinda was," said Haskins, agreeing Higgs' injury made the team better.

Flores never lacked confidence; he has it by the truckload.

The Vikings immediately acquired another weapon. That's why Saturday's game is the most intriguing, fascinating and compelling contest which will be played this season.

Why? Because playoff football is guided and determined by playmakers.

All things being equal, and they frequently are this deep into the postseason, coaches depend on their playmakers to create separation from the other team. That's why playmakers end up playing in college; their talent takes them there.

Casa certainly has its share, with JaJuan Lawson, John Porchivina, Cody Hughson, Miles Gardea and Dan Greisen among the most obvious.

When asked for his list of playmakers, Haskins named seven: Justin Eatmon, Etienne Ezeff, Henry Stelzner, Logan Francavilla, Justin Perry, Flores and Higgs.

That's 12 names in those two paragraphs, 12 kids who at any given time have the skill-set to make a play that will lift you from your seat in the stands and turn the game around.

And that's not counting a few other kids who have had moments which have impacted a game, like Montgomery's Anthony Batista and Casa's Nick Pleinnikul.

A team doesn't make it this far into the playoffs with smoke and mirrors. A team doesn't make it this far with a gaping hole of deficiency that can be exploited. And — this is true of all very good teams — a team this far along doesn't point fingers. In athletics, no matter what the level, this is the most challenging obstacle for any coach.

"We are playing for the guy next to us, not for ourselves," said Stelzner, a linebacker.

It's playing for the school band, if you really get technical about it. Last Friday after Montgomery beat Concord in Concord, linebacker Cole Larson, one of the team captains, went to his teammates and made a simple request.

"Find a band member," Larson said, "and thank them for coming."

If it's playing for the trombone player or the middle linebacker, the message is the same: Together we stand. There's security in such numbers.

There's also momentum. A voice of one player is rarely heard; a voice of 45, however, is. It creates a surge and after four months Montgomery's collective voice has advanced to the point that the unthinkable has become not only possible, but logical.

"We want to make a name for ourselves," Higgs said. "We want to make sure people remember us."

That's the 2013 Montgomery Vikings, the team that resumed the glory quest Jason Franci developed and nurtured for 33 years.

The sleeping giant is awake.

Make no mistake about that.

Of course some will. It is the nature of things, especially when it's Casa Grande on the other side of the football.

"Of course, we're underdogs," Haskins said. "Then again, we were underdogs before the season began."

Haskins paused for a moment, shrugged and smiled.

"Hey, we don't know any better!" is what Haskins said, amused he was, knowing opinions have yet to decide a football game.

You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.