JUSTIN — Guyer’s playoff opener against Saginaw had seemed like nothing more than a formality for the past few weeks — a mere stepping stone to a marquee second-round matchup with three-time defending state champion Aledo.
And despite a couple of early mistakes by the Wildcats, Guyer rolled to a 42-14 win in the Class 4A Division I bi-district game to set up Friday’s matchup with Aledo at 2 p.m. back at Northwest ISD Stadium.
Guyer (9-2), the No. 7 team in The Associated Press’ final Class 4A state poll, entered the season as the top-ranked team before losing its first two games to Class 5A powers Cedar Hill and Colleyville Heritage. Aledo (10-1), No. 3 in the same poll, has maintained its dominance despite the loss of star running back Jonathan Gray to Texas.
Guyer head coach John Walsh knows the meeting will be between two teams with state championship aspirations, and he likes it that way.
“We’ve had some big games early [in the playoffs] before,” Walsh said. “We had Cedar Hill in Round 2 [in 2010], and I think you use it as a springboard. I think it’s a great week to have it on Thanksgiving because the kids aren’t in school and their routine is off, but this will keep them focused.”
Early in Friday’s game, the mistakes came in bunches as Guyer scored just seven points in the first quarter and held a 14-point lead at halftime.
On the second offensive play of the night, Guyer quarterback Jerrod Heard lost a fumble after a 9-yard gain, but the defense forced a subsequent three-and-out.
It was one of three Guyer turnovers (two fumbles) on the night after having lost only four fumbles on the season.
“I don’t think they were pressing,” Walsh said. “They were relaxed and playing hard; it was just not taking care of the football. You have to squeeze it, and they weren’t squeezing it.”
On the ensuing drive, the Wildcats went 76 yards in 10 plays, capped by a 2-yard touchdown run from Heard to get on the scoreboard, and that wasn’t even the Wildcats’ longest drive of the night.
After getting just one first down in the first half — on an 89-yard touchdown run from Russell Murphy — Saginaw (8-3) was driving well into Guyer territory on the first drive of the second half, but the Wildcats’ defense came up with a big play.
Murphy gained 19 yards on a run down to the Guyer 5-yard line when he was stripped of the ball and linebacker Demontrie Taylor recovered it to give the Wildcats the ball at their own 2-yard line with a 21-7 lead as Saginaw was going in to make it a one-score game.
That’s when the Wildcats put the game on ice with a 14-play, 98-yard scoring drive that took almost five minutes off the clock and was capped by a 13-yard run from Richard Whitaker.
“I think there are championship drives in the playoffs and there’s gonna be multiple ones,” Walsh said. “When you can take the ball from your 2-yard line — we had two long drives over 10 plays trying to go 90 [yards] — that shows patience. We’re a big-play offense, so that shows patience to go 14 plays.”
That drive included two big third-down conversions, one on a Heard run and the other on a pass to senior wide receiver Ellis Jefferson, who is committed to Arizona State.
Jefferson, who entered the season expecting to be a big-play receiver, came into Friday’s game with a team-high 22 catches for 316 yards and four scores. He has been pining to get into more of a rhythm with the offense for much of the season, and it happened Friday night.
Jefferson finished with eight catches for 73 yards and a touchdown just before the half.
“Me and Jerrod, we’re gonna have that connection, and I knew it was starting to happen,” Jefferson said. “I was real happy about it.”
So was Walsh, who had been waiting for a chance to showcase his physically gifted receiver.
“When you have a 6-4, 200-pound horse out there, you have to ride it a little bit, and for the next five or six weeks we’re gonna have to,” Walsh said. “It was good to see him be physical and have big hands and go catch the ball. The other guys did a good job, too.”
In all, Heard completed passes to eight receivers on a night in which he set season highs for completions, attempts and passing yards. He finished the night 20-of-31 passing for 246 yards, a touchdown and a late interception. He also rushed for 105 yards on 16 carries and scored twice on the ground to help Guyer roll up 552 total yards. Junior running back D.J. Breedlove had 112 yards and a score on 12 carries, and senior Richard Whitaker finished with 81 yards and a score on 14 carries.
“They were stacking everyone in the box, and when you do that, we have good wide receivers,” Walsh said. “Jerrod threw it really good in our short and intermediate game.”
While Guyer struggled with turnovers, the Wildcats’ defense put their offensive teammates in prime position near the end of the first quarter.
That’s when Saginaw quarterback Dalton Wachel dropped back on an attempted screen pass to a running back who was hit as the ball touched his hands, propelling the ball right into the hands of defensive tackle Domenic Pickering at the Saginaw 23-yard line.
Four plays later, Guyer took a 14-0 lead on an 8-yard run by Nate Maki on the first play of the second quarter.
It was the way Guyer capitalized on Saginaw’s mistakes that Walsh liked, even though his own team turned the ball over three times, resulting in just one Saginaw score.
“We just hope we got them [fumbles] all out because we haven’t been a fumbling team,” Walsh said. “We’ve done a great job protecting the football. I’m not concerned about it, we just have to protect it.”
That will be a crucial factor in Friday’s game against Aledo.
“When you play a good team like Aledo and you have two top-10 teams, there’s gonna be good football on both sides,” Walsh said. “Just like any big playoff game with two good teams, whoever executes better is gonna win that game.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
Guyer 42, Saginaw 14
G – Jerrod Heard 2 run (Brad Grems kick), 7:23
G – Nate Maki 8 run (Grems kick), 11:56
S – Russell Murphy 89 run (Arnulfo Ibarra kick), 4:16
G – Ellis Jefferson 7 pass from Heard (Grems kick), 0:27
G – Richard Whitaker 13 run (Grems kick), 2:27
G – Heard 3 run (Grems kick), 8:54
S – Anthony Malloy 34 pass from Dalton Wachel (Ibarra kick), 6:34
G – D.J. Breedlove 12 run (Grems kick), 2:22
Rushing — G: Jerrod Heard 16-105, Richard Whitaker 14-81, Nate Maki 1-8, D.J. Breedlove 12-112. S: Russell Murphy 15-134, Dalton Wachel 3-16, Jacob Ramirez 2-6, Lewis Blackwell 3-8.
Passing — G: Jerrod Heard 20-31-1-246, Ellis Jefferson 0-1-0-0. S: Dalton Wachel 4-12-1-79.
Receiving — G: Ellis Jefferson 8-73, Josh Harris 3-47, Nate Maki 2-42, Richard Whitaker 1-4, Adam Scott 1-26, Preston Thrailkill 3-36, D.J. Breedlove 1-8, Jonathan Pershall 1-10. S: Cameron Atkinson 3-45, Anthony Malloy 1-17.