Author: Mike Lee, Special to Big Country Preps

FEATURE: Surprising De Leon rewarded for staying the course


DE LEON — First-year De Leon head football coach Andrew Dickson kept insisting his Bearcats were a good team — even through seven regular-season losses.

Despite the mounting losses and offensive struggles caused in part by a 180-degree change in philosophy, the Bearcats finally proved their coach right at an opportune time. Jorge Gonzalez rushed for 197 yards and three touchdowns as the Bearcats, who entered the playoffs as a No. 4 seed with a 3-7 record, stunned the Bruceville-Eddy Eagles 48-41 in overtime in their Class 2A Division I bidistrict game Friday at Whitney.

Bruceville-Eddy, the No. 1 seed from District 8-2A, entered the playoffs with a 9-1 record, its first outright district championship in 39 years and a bye week to recuperate for the playoffs.

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FEATURE: No. 1 Wall to enter playoffs without starting quarterback

The undefeated and No. 1-ranked Wall Hawks will enter the Class 3A Division I playoffs this week with starting quarterback Mason Fuchs still sidelined from a concussion suffered Oct. 25 during a District 3-3A DI game against the Eastland Mavericks.

Drew Morrison, a junior and the Hawks’ backup quarterback, started the final two regular-season games — wins of 20-6 over Breckenridge and 49-7 over Early.

“I don’t think Mason will be able to play this week,” Wall coach Houston Guy said, referring the Hawks’ bidistrict game against Boyd scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday at Cisco. “His first full day back at school wasn’t until Friday so he obviously has not returned to practice.

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FEATURE: San Saba’s defense dented, but withstands first major test

Photos by Denise Roland of San Saba

Andreas Aguirre stayed with the “dark side” of high school football after he was promoted to his first head coaching position earlier this year at San Saba.

Gary Roland is officially the Armadillos’ defensive coordinator. Aguirre manages game decisions, but the former seven-year defensive coordinator kept his coaching hand on the defensive side of the football. He left the offense to coordinators Austin Eudy and Corbyn Gilbert.

San Saba, undefeated and ranked No. 3 in Class 2A Division I, has allowed 37 points in nine games — an average of four points per start.

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FEATURE: Receiving foursome provides bright spot for still-young Sweetwater

A balanced receiving corps has been a bright spot in an otherwise tough season for the youthful Sweetwater Mustangs.

Junior Darian Carr, along with seniors Kei’Arriyen Griffin, Elijah Kent and Tyler Warner have combined for 97 receptions for 1,831 yards and 18 touchdowns this season. Carr leads the group with 28 receptions, but Kent is close behind with 26 receptions, Griffin has 25 and Warren 18.

“They’ve learned how to get open based on what the coverage and the defense are doing,” Sweetwater third-year head coach Ben McGehee said. “They all consistently run good routes, and they all have good hands. They have very few drops.

“Our quarterback, Leo Holsey, trusts those guys and that allows him to spread the ball around. Leo knows his receivers are going to come to practice and work hard every day.”

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FEATURE: San Saba shows two QBs, making O’Keefe a triple threat

Sean O’Keefe proved last year he’s a dual threat quarterback, capable of hurting a defense by passing and running the football. This year the San Saba senior has become a triple threat with receiving added to his skill set.

The undefeated and state-ranked Class 2A Armadillos (6-0) have shown a package — even to start some games — with junior Risien Shahan at quarterback and O’Keefe at wide receiver. So far, San Saba has used the package for a limited number of series usually in the first quarter, then moved O’Keefe back to quarterback, where he is a four-year starter.

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FEATURE: Being healthier, bigger are plusses for Stephenville QB Renfro

The football life of Stephenville quarterback Kade Renfro has steadied after an injury-plagued 2018 season in which he missed the Yellow Jackets’ first four games with a hip flexor injury.

Renfro is healthy so far this season. He won the starting quarterback role over left-hander Cole Stanley. And he gave a verbal commitment over the summer to play college football for the University of North Texas.

“I’m more experienced, and I’m a lot calmer,” Renfro said when asked the difference in him now versus last season. “I can go out and lead the guys. They can look in my eyes and see that I’m ready to lead them.”

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2019 Brownwood

FEATURE: Undefeated Lions led by lightning-quick defense

2019 Brownwood Snyder

It’s not difficult to discover why the Brownwood Lions are 5-0 and ranked in the top 10 in Class 4A Division I. Their defense is allowing 6.4 points per game and has recorded two shutouts.

“We’re thrilled, obviously,” said David Jones, Brownwood’s second-year defensive coordinator. “It gets harder to defend teams every year with the way they spread the field and the number of snaps they’re getting.

“But we believe that if each player will take care of his business, we’ll be tough to score on.”

Brownwood is fresh off its second shutout this year — a 33-0 win Friday over Class 5A DII Abilene Wylie — a game in which the Lions’ defense allowed only 109 total yards. The other shutout was 10-0 over 3A DI state-ranked Brock in the season opener. Sandwiched between the shutouts are wins overs Snyder (70-3), Graham (28-14) and Wichita Falls Rider (37-15). Brownwood will play its final nondistrict game Friday against Conroe Grand Oaks, a new program that will join the UIL next season.

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FEATURE: Ballinger’s Bean a true student of the game

To call Ballinger senior Cooper Bean a student of the game of football is an understatement.

“I’m a coach’s kid so I’ve been around football all my life,” said Bean, a running back and all-state linebacker for the undefeated Ballinger Bearcats. “I love watching film and studying every opponent we play. I like to know what’s coming at me on Friday night.

“I get yelled at by my teachers sometimes for watching film on my phone during class.”

Bean, a starter since his sophomore season, made 296 tackles during the 2017 and 2018 seasons combined. His 165 stops in 11 games last year earned the 5-foot-11, 205-pound Bean all-state honors at linebacker. He’s off to another solid start this season for Ballinger, which is 3-0 entering District 4-3A Division II play Friday.

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FEATURE: De Leon wading through injuries, schedule and transition

DE LEON — The De Leon Bearcats would have enough challenges this football season just switching from the pass-oriented spread offense to the run-oriented Wing-T. But the Class 2A Bearcats also lost six starters to injuries in their first two games, which doesn’t mix well with a challenging nondistrict schedule that opens with four 3A opponents in Clyde, Tolar, Dublin and Comanche.

The Bearcats edged Clyde 7-6 in the opener, but have since lost to Tolar 23-17 and Dublin 31-7. Next up is county rival Comanche followed by Stamford, a perennially solid 2A program.

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FEATURE: ‘Pound the rock and run the clock’ — Goldthwaite transitions from passing to running with Slot-T

Goldthwaite lines up in its new slot-T offense during its Aug. 30 season opener with Winters.

GOLDTHWAITE — The Goldthwaite Eagles’ transition from the pass-oriented pistol offense to the run-oriented Slot-T under new coach Keith Virdell enjoyed a breakout performance during Friday’s 36-27 win at Junction.

Goldthwaite rushed for 351 yards against Junction — which incredibly was more than the 317 yards rushing the Eagles managed during the entire 2018 season, when they finished 1-9. The 2018 total included 131 negative yards for quarterback sacks and 76 negative yards credited to the team for errant shotgun snaps.

The Eagles won’t have lost yardage for bad shotgun snaps this year since senior quarterback Grayson Moore is under center. They won’t have many sacks, either, since Moore has passed only five times in two games. The win over Junction ended Goldthwaite’s nine-game losing skid.

Virdell’s Slot-T is all about running backs hitting the holes quickly — whether it’s on a trap, sweep, quick pitch or misdirection run. The philosophy is to block and run quickly so the offense goes downhill.

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FEATURE: Dominant pitching a big reason for Wall’s No. 1 ranking

Photos courtesy of Stephanie Weishuhn

Most Class 3A baseball teams hope to have one or two starting pitchers who can consistently shut down opponents.

Wall has five pitchers with earned run averages of 0.60 or less, and it’s not like the undefeated Hawks have played a weak schedule. Their nondistrict victims include Class 6A Odessa High and 4A opponents Pecos, Andrews, Seminole, Dumas, Lubbock Estacado, Lamesa and Snyder.

It’s no wonder Wall is 31-0 and has been ranked No. 1 in 3A in the Texas Association of Baseball Coaches poll since the first week of April. Wall will face Alpine in the regional quarterfinals at 6 p.m. Friday and noon Saturday in a best-of-three series scheduled for Christensen Stadium in Midland.

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FEATURE Gorman’s Guthery: Being 25-0 feels ‘awkward’ (photos courtesy of Jennifer Overstreet)

Caitlyn Clark has pitched through tendinitis this season.

Nick Guthery had to talk girls into playing softball when he became the Gorman coach in 2011. Nine years later, his Lady Panthers are 25-0 and ranked No. 1 in the state entering the Class 1A regional semifinals.

“I have to admit. It feels a little awkward,” Guthery said after Gorman, No. 1 in Class 1A in the Texas Girls Coaches Association poll, beat No. 5 Perrin-Whitt 6-1 in Thursday’s regional quarterfinals. “We’ve been undefeated in district before, but we’ve never been this far along and not lost a game.

“We don’t see ourselves as undefeated. We just play it a game at a time and move on to the next one. Most people think I should be pumped up about being undefeated. And I am, but we don’t dwell on it because we know we can be beaten on any day.”

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San Saba eliminates De Leon 31-17

BROWNWOOD — When Jerod Fikac arrived at San Saba in 2017 and inherited a 0-10 team, he asked his players a simple question.

“Coach Fikac asked us which was bigger: the rearview mirror or the front windshield?” recalled Armadillos’ end Joseph Watson. “We all said the front windshield. He told us not to look through the rearview mirror because it shows what’s in the past. The front windshield looks toward the future. He wanted us looking toward the future.”

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