FEATURE: Clutch Wylie Bulldogs comfortable with game on the line

It may seem obvious, but pressure situations are described as such because of the increased stress put on teams trying to perform in the late stages of close games.

Playing in “crunch time” is supposed to make things more difficult.

Apparently no one ever bothered to inform the Wylie football team of this.

With three last-drive wins and another game in which the Bulldogs scored in the final minute to take a lead they would lose on the final play, coach Clay Martin’s team has performed exceptionally well when the stakes were the highest. And while even the third-year Wylie head coach can’t fully explain what it is about this team that makes it so calm when storms are raging around it, he’s grown to share his players’ confidence in those spots.

The latest example came last week, when Wylie (9-3) rallied from a 40-30 deficit with less than six minutes remaining to beat Colleyville Heritage 50-40, scoring to go ahead 43-40 on a touchdown pass with three seconds left before recovering a fumble in the end zone on the game’s final play. That was the third late-game rally during the Bulldogs’ current seven-game win streak, which has them set to face Canutillo in the Region I-5A Division II semifinals on Saturday in Fort Stockton.

“I don’t know if I have a good answer for that,” said Martin, when asked what separates a team that performs well under pressure from one that doesn’t. “I think it has a lot to do with poise but it has a lot to do with belief. I don’t think there was a single person on our team that didn’t think we were going to go score to win the game (last week).

“When we got the ball back, I think it was a done deal, and that’s how we saw it. When you have that kind of confidence in each other, I think that goes a long way to creating those types of teams, but I don’t know if I have a great answer for what makes it. It’s hard. It’s hard to perform in those situations. If it was easy, everybody would do it. So just a lot of credit goes to the kids and the way in which they’ve handled those those types of situations.”

One of the biggest catalysts for Wylie’s “never say die” mentality is its quarterback KJ Long.

The senior has made a habit of willing the Bulldogs to victories this season, and giving them every opportunity to win on the few occasions they’ve lost.

Undersized at 5-foot-8, Long has made up for any physical shortcomings he may have with an oversized heart and an unyielding competitive drive. And his team has adopted similar traits as its hallmarks.

“KJ is a huge part of all that,” Martin said. “He’s just a guy that has performed exceptionally well in those types of situations. I think we have a lot of people around him that have made huge plays for us, but KJ can hurt you in a lot of different ways. And when we’re in those two-minute or last drive of the game situations, I think he’s at his best. That’s really uplifted the play of everyone around him.”

Because of the success they’ve had in close games this year, the Bulldogs have developed a late-game edge few can match.

But it was forged in some ways through failure. Wylie lost three one-score games during nondistrict play, falling to Lubbock Cooper (33-28) and Stephenville (56-49) before losing on a last-second Hail Mary to San Angelo Central (63-61).

But a wild come-from-behind win over Wichita Falls Rider in which the Bulldogs rallied from a 17-point halftime deficit changed everything. A last-minute touchdown drive secured a 39-38 win in that one, and they’ve won every game since.

With so much experience in late-and-close situations and so much success in those spots recently, the Bulldogs feel good about their chances in any game that comes down the wire.

“It definitely has a snowball effect,” Martin said. “Once you do it, you believe you can do it, and I think I think our kids understand that. We’re an up-tempo team anyway … so really, we feel pretty comfortable from an offensive standpoint when we’re having to go fast. It feels probably a lot more like practice than than any other time in the game.

“But I really believe it’s one thing to talk about two-minute drill or to talk about those types of situations but until you are in the middle of it, and experience it, you don’t really understand what all that entails. And right from the from the start, we were in a lot of those situations in nondistrict and situations in which you had to perform on both sides of the ball. We weren’t always successful in all of those, but I think it’s paid huge dividends down the road to the point where we’re almost even comfortable in those spots.”

With one more win, the Bulldogs will be playing for the Region I-5A DII title next week.

With everything this team has accomplished, Martin isn’t putting anything past these Bulldogs.

“I’m sure it will be easier when the season’s over to look back, but there have obviously been some exceptional plays and it’ll be a nice highlight tape when we’re done with all this,” the coach said. “But hopefully we’re just getting started and have a lot more of those to come.”

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