Guyer’s offense did just about everything it could Friday night to lose a pivotal District 5-4A game against Wichita Falls Rider, the No. 9 team in The Associated Press Class 4A poll.
Luckily for the Wildcats’ offense and head coach John Walsh, the Guyer defense did everything it could to win a crucial game, holding the Raiders to less than 200 total yards and coming up with some key plays to lift the Wildcats to a 21-10 win over Rider.
The win gave Guyer the inside track to the 5-4A championship with two regular-season games remaining. If the Wildcats win next week against Wichita Falls, they will clinch the first outright district championship in school history.
“We’ve won big a lot this year,” Walsh said. “So to play as bad as we did offensively, and to call a game as bad as I did offensively tonight and lean on our defense and see us get the victory still, that makes me feel pretty good.
“As a play-caller, I don’t feel very good right now, but as a head coach and watching my defense win that game for us, I’m pretty excited.”
He has reason to be.
In its four prior district games, Guyer (6-2, 5-0 district) averaged 58.3 points per game, but the offense never got in a rhythm Friday night and committed turnovers on two consecutive offensive snaps coming out of the halftime break to allow the Raiders (6-2, 4-1) to get back in the game and threaten to take the lead in the fourth quarter.
Before Friday night, Walsh had never had to rely on his defense in a district game this season, but that all changed, and the Wildcats’ defense was up to the task.
“As a defense, we just had to take the game into our hands,” senior middle linebacker Terence Belton said. “If the offense wasn’t going to be able to score, we had to stop them and try to get turnovers and stop them on third downs to get off the field.”
After the Wildcats turned the ball over on their first two offensive snaps of the second half — a Jerrod Heard interception and a Richard Whitaker fumble — the Raiders had the ball on the Guyer 47-yard line early in the fourth quarter, trailing 14-10.
That’s when the defense made its biggest play of the game.
Rider quarterback Davon Allison, who stepped in for injured backup quarterback Chase London after he replaced blue-chip quarterback J.T. Barrett, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the Raiders’ second district game, carried the ball 2 yards on second-and-7 but was met by Guyer’s Patrick Morris.
Morris, who is committed to TCU as an offensive tackle, has seen more time on the defensive line in recent weeks and made his presence felt when he forced a fumble that linebacker Demontrie Taylor recovered at the Guyer 43-yard line.
“When they talk about turnover ratio, it’s got to go both ways and we put ourselves on the back end of it and needed some help,” Walsh said. “If the ball carrier gets near Patrick, he’s strong enough where he can jar it loose, and our backers are athletic enough to go jump on it.”
The play also gave the Wildcats’ offense life, as they went on their longest drive of the game, capped by a 3-yard touchdown run from Heard to put Guyer up by the final 11-point margin.
Heard’s run came on third-and-goal from the Rider 3-yard line, and it was a designed run-pass option that made amends for Walsh’s earlier self-described play-calling mistakes.
“There was no doubt that we were going to put it in his hands,” Walsh said of Heard. “When we’re down there and the game’s on the line, it goes to him.”
Heard finished the night with 17 carries for 104 yards and the game-clinching touchdown.
“That situation and after the first two turnovers [for Guyer], I came back the next drive and he made a great play off a keep and jumped over a guy to make a long run,” Walsh said. “He’s a momentum changer for us and is going to continue to be.”
Guyer gained 235 of its 298 yards on the ground, led by Heard and senior running back Richard Whitaker, who finished with 108 yards on 20 carries.
Fullback Nate Maki had two first-half touchdown runs of 11 and 8 yards.
But there is no doubt the star of Friday’s game was the Guyer defense, which for the first time this season chose to take the field first, which Belton said gave his unit confidence after the Wildcats won the coin toss and chose to defer to the second half.
“It makes us feel real good, especially going into the playoffs knowing the offense can rely on us to stop people when they’re not going,” Belton said. “This is the first game that we’ve actually kicked off the ball to start the game, so to go out there and get a stop on the first drive felt really good.”
The first mishap of the game for Walsh and the Wildcats came early, as they chose to go for it on fourth-and-2 from the Rider 14-yard line on its first offensive drive but were flagged for a false start to bring up fourth-and-7 from the 19.
Walsh didn’t have a change of heart, and Heard was stopped after a 5-yard gain to turn the ball over on downs.
On Rider’s first play of the ensuing drive, Domanic Thrasher scampered 61 yards to the Guyer 35-yard line. But that was all the Raiders could muster on the drive, as Guyer returned the favor and forced a turnover on downs to give the Wildcats the ball at their 30.
Eight plays later, Guyer opened the game’s scoring with an 11-yard run by Maki.
“They bailed me out,” Walsh said of his defense. “They bailed our offense out. It wasn’t just them getting third-down stops either. They were giving us field position, too. I feel great because we haven’t had a game this year like that. In past years we’ve had games where our defense just got us through it.
“Tonight’s the first game this year where we had to lean on them and they said, ‘All right, we’ve got your back.’”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872. His e-mail address is email@example.com
Guyer 21, Wichita Falls Rider 10
G — Nate Maki 11 run (Brad Grems kick), 0:25
R — Brandon Williams 27 field goal, 6:42
G — Maki 8 run (Grems kick), 4:43
R — Domanic Thrasher 1 run (Williams kick), 8:39
G — Jerrod Heard 3 run (Grems kick), 4:53
Rushing — R: Domanic Thrasher 14-86, D.J. Arnold 2-3, Carlos Fleeks 3-(-2), Josh Price 1-2, Davon Allison 15-58. G: Jerrod Heard 17-104, Richard Whitaker 20-108, Nate Maki 3-23.
Passing — R: Davon Allison 7-12-0 52. G – Jerrod Heard 5-9-1 63.
Receiving — R: Brandon Williams 3-28, John Hatch 3-22, Brylan McCoy 1-2. G – Josh Harris 1-6, Richard Whitaker 2-26, Jonathan Pershall 1-15, Nate Maki 1-16.