While hanging around waiting for the University Scholastic League to unveil the two-year realignment at the Birdville Fine Arts and Athletics Complex in February, Guyer head coach John Walsh had a pretty good idea where his team would end up.
When the District 5-4A lineup was unveiled on the wall, Walsh knew exactly who his main competition would be.
Tonight at C.H. Collins Athletic Complex, the Wildcats (5-2, 4-0 district) will face Wichita Falls Rider (6-1, 4-0), the ninth-ranked team in the Associated Press Class 4A poll, for a date that has been marked on both programs’ calendars since last winter.
“Not to disrespect anyone else, but we just knew what Rider had coming back and we felt good about ourselves, so we surely felt like this would be the game to determine who was the district champion,” Walsh said. “Here we are. Both teams have taken care of business, and it ought to be fun on Friday night.”
While the game likely will decide the district championship, it will lack the star power that was advertised coming into the season, when it was billed as Jerrod Heard vs. J.T. Barrett.
Heard, Guyer’s junior quarterback, has committed to Texas. Barrett, a senior, committed to Ohio State. But Barrett is out for the season with a knee injury he suffered against Fort Worth Brewer.
“That always makes a good game — a good matchup,” Heard said. “It is disappointing to know he won’t be able to play. It’s just something that happens. I hope he gets better and presses through it.”
Added Walsh: “I think it’s program vs. program, but I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I was looking forward to the Jerrod and J.T. matchup. I want to win district championships, but I think the matchup of Wichita Falls Rider with J.T. healthy and all our guys healthy makes each of us better down the road, no matter who wins the district title.”
But there is still a game to be played, and the Raiders also could be without their second-string quarterback, Chase London, who is doubtful to play with a hamstring injury.
That would mean third-stringer Johnny Diaz or Davon Allison, who has played as a wide receiver for much of the season, would get the start.
It also means the Raiders likely will run a lot of single-wing offense, which employs no quarterback and two running backs in shotgun formation behind the center, leaving it as anyone’s guess who will get the snap on each play.
“They’ve done it for a few years now,” Walsh said. “They’d take J.T. out of the game to rest him a little bit. They’re good at it. It’s a lot of misdirection, but it’s been a part of their offense for a while. It’s become a bigger part since J.T.’s been down.”
And while the chaos after each snap seems overwhelming, Guyer defensive tackle Domenic Pickering said defending the offense is actually simple.
“It’s just basic keys, to be honest,” Pickering said. “We’re just doing basic stuff at practice, making sure we have fundamentals down to make sure our technique is good.”
Offensively, Guyer has been clicking all season, and especially since district play began.
In their four district games, the Wildcats have outscored their opponents 233-55, and they’ve done that with a lot of uncertainty up front.
The Wildcats have played just one district game with their starting five offensive linemen in the lineup, as center Zach Colpean is the only one to not miss a game in district play.
That trend will continue today because right guard Ryan Felan was injured in last week’s win over Lake Dallas and right tackle Bryan Barrett will miss his second straight game with walking pneumonia.
While Heard said working with new linemen every week has made preparations difficult, Walsh said the fact that backups Ryan Starr and Wade Austin have gotten so much playing time is a blessing in disguise.
“My assistants get upset and all out of whack because we don’t have everybody, but I have a different approach. I know we have depth there,” Walsh said. “Those guys missing games doesn’t hurt us in the long run. I think about now we have gotten Wade Austin and Ryan Starr some invaluable playing time, so now I know we’re going into the playoffs seven- or eight-deep. I see the silver lining.”
If that trend continues and Guyer beats Rider, the Wildcats will be planted firmly in the driver’s seat for an outright district championship, something Guyer has never won. The Wildcats have one district championship in the program’s brief history, but it was a shared title in 2009.
While Walsh has never put much stock in district championships, setting his sights more on deep playoff runs, he admitted it would be a special accomplishment.
“We’ve used that [as motivation],” Walsh said. “We haven’t done it here. We’ve used the fact that they can be unique in Guyer’s short history to be the first and only guys to win it outright, and I think the kids will feed off that.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .