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Football: Wildcats’ defense still getting better

Profile image for By Rich Luna / For the Denton Record-Chronicle
By Rich Luna / For the Denton Record-Chronicle

JUSTIN — The scary thing for opponents about the Guyer defense is not how far it has come since the season started, but the fact that it probably hasn’t even played its best game yet.

Aledo witnessed first-hand Friday just how much the Guyer defense has improved, as the Bearcats fell to the Wildcats 42-30 in a Class 4A Division I Region I area-round playoff game at Northwest ISD Stadium.

The outcome was a marked difference from when the teams met in a preseason scrimmage in August. Aledo dominated that scrimmage as Guyer worked in a new front seven around two returning starters.

Guyer’s woes on defense continued into the first two weeks of the season as the Wildcats gave up 108 points in losses to Cedar Hill and Colleyville Heritage.

But since then, Guyer (10-2) has not lost and its defense has continually improved. Still, the Wildcats figured to be tested against Aledo, winner of the last three 4A Division II state championships and 19 straight playoff games. The Bearcats entered the game with a 10-1 record and were averaging 423.5 yards of total offense per game, including 232.2 yards per game rushing.

So what the Wildcats do? They held Aledo to 103 yards of offense in a dominating first half and 366 yards for the game. The Bearcats did not rush for more than 100 yards on the ground until one minute was left.

“We knew it was all going to come together,” said senior defensive back Tavi Sanches, one of two returning starters for Guyer. “We knew at the beginning of the season that we just needed to be around each other and get to know each other. There’s a lot of pride on this team, and we knew if we executed we could get better.”

Sanches played a key role in Friday’s victory. He finished with three tackles, intercepted a pass deep in Guyer territory late in the first half and blocked a 26-yard field goal attempt at the end of the third quarter.

“He’s a game changer,” Guyer coach John Walsh said of Sanches. “He’s the kind of guy who’s going to make big plays. He’s also a gambler and he got burned on one play, but he’s a big reason the defense has turned it around.”

Sanches’ interception was his third of the season. He returned the pick 50 yards, but the return was negated by a penalty. He also broke up three passes in the fourth quarter.

Sanches entered the game with 23 tackles and 48 assists. He also plays a key role in kick returns, averaging 15 yards on kickoff returns and 17.6 yards on punt returns. He returned one punt this season 76 yards.

“He’s definitely a big-time player,” defensive coordinator Derek Ramsey said. “He’s also been a leader for us and has helped the younger and newer guys learn our system.”

Sanches deflected the credit, citing the play of teammates such as Connor Allen, who led the team Friday with eight tackles — two for losses — and a batted pass.

“Guys like him [Allen] are the reason we’re doing well,” Sanches said.

Allen said performances like Friday’s only add to the unit’s confidence.

“It makes us feel like we did our job all week,” he said. “We learned the schemes for this week and then saw that if we executed we could succeed, especially against a good team like Aledo. It’s a great feeling knowing we’re still playing.”

Ramsey knows it’s only going to get tougher for the Wildcats as the playoffs continue.

“We dominated in the first half, but we didn’t take care of things in the second half like we should have,” he said. “We gave up some big plays even though I have to credit their wide receiver [Willie Gibson, who had five catches for 157 yards and three touchdowns]. So we’ve still got some things to work on. There’s definitely room for improvement.”