MIDLAND — Entering Saturday’s third-round playoff game against Amarillo, Guyer coach John Walsh had a small list of things he wanted to see transpire after the opening kickoff.
He wanted the Wildcats to jump out to a decent lead and keep it against Amarillo’s ground-and-pound wing-T offense. He wanted his offense to stay on the field for sustained drives to rest his defense against a Sandies team that likes to own time of possession.
He was disappointed in the outcome of both, but he was ecstatic his team was able to survive a game that was not played in its style and beat Amarillo 38-30 at Grande Communications Stadium.
“I’m really pleased because we won a ballgame that we certainly didn’t want to be in the fourth quarter with just a one-score lead,” Walsh said.
That was definitely the case, as Guyer advanced to face Birdville (13-0) at 2 p.m. Saturday at Southlake’s Dragon Stadium in the Class 4A Division I Region I final.
Guyer’s high-scoring offense that has averaged 42 points — mostly in quick-strike fashion — in the playoffs was kept off the field, just as Amarillo coach Mel Maxfield preaches.
The Wildcats (11-2) ran just seven offensive plays in the first quarter as Amarillo got a field goal out of an 18-play drive that ate nearly seven minutes off the clock.
Amarillo kicker Mason Edmondson had three field goals on the day, which was part of the Sandies’ problem. Even though the Wildcats barely held the ball in the first quarter, they got a touchdown when D.J. Breedlove opened the game’s scoring with a 14-yard run on a lateral from Jerrod Heard.
The Sandies’ first drive of the second half was the same way, going 71 yards on 16 plays in 7:10. It ended with another Edmondson field goal to briefly cut Guyer’s lead to five points near the end of the third quarter.
That slow, methodical style of play had Guyer’s defensive players gasping for air at times, and senior middle linebacker Terence Belton wasn’t afraid to admit it.
“Very gassed,” he said, still breathing hard after the game. “Long drives down the field. I just told the defense we just had to play and stay disciplined.
“I don’t even know what they did, really. They just pounded the ball. Sometimes when we stopped them they still went with the same thing. They just pounded it down the field.”
Amarillo (10-3) rolled up 217 yards on 48 carries, nearly 100 yards less than its season average. The Sandies were led on the ground by Josh Woods, who had 91 yards on 22 carries.
The Sandies had 460 total yards to Guyer’s 391.
Where the Sandies gave Guyer fits was in their passing game, an area where their offense is surprisingly accomplished for their style of play.
Amarillo quarterback Gabe Rodriguez completed 15 of 24 pass attempts for 243 yards and three scores, including a late touchdown to Ryan Sluder to pull the Sandies within eight points with just more than a minute remaining. Guyer recovered an onside kick attempt to end the threat.
“We expected a few big hits [in the passing game] on us, but the disappointment for us was they weren’t wide open,” Walsh said. “We have to look in the mirror and say, ‘Hey, if we want to keep advancing, when that ball’s close to us we have to treat it like it’s our ball too.’ They made the plays; we didn’t.”
The Sandies’ passing game was especially efficient on third down, as Amarillo was 7-for-9 on third-down conversions and 3-of-4 on fourth down.
“It was very frustrating,” Belton said. “We’d hit them for a loss or a 1-yard gain on first and second down, and on third down they’d throw the ball and our secondary’s out of position. I was very frustrated with all the third-down conversions they had.”
But with all that frustration and exhaustion, Belton said he always had faith in his offense to win the game. Ultimately, that happened, along with a little help from junior kicker Brad Grems, who kicked a 36-yard field goal in the fourth quarter for an eight-point lead.
Aside from when Guyer led 7-3 in the first quarter, the Sandies were never closer than five points. When the Wildcats needed a big score, they got it.
Jerrod Heard, a junior quarterback who has committed to Texas, finished with 155 rushing yards and two scores and threw a 43-yard touchdown to Arizona State pledge Ellis Jefferson, who finished with 104 yards on three catches.
“He’s a big threat,” Walsh said of Jefferson, whose statistics haven’t been eye-popping this season due to Guyer’s large leads in the regular season. “He should have more than three catches, though. If he didn’t, it’s my fault. He’s been big all playoffs, and he’s going to continue to be big.”
But with Guyer’s offense, it all came back to Heard, just as it has all season.
After an Edmondson field goal pulled Amarillo to within 21-16 with 3:48 left in the third quarter, Guyer started at its 21-yard line looking to get back to a two-score lead.
On the drive’s third play, Heard weaved through Amarillo’s defense, slipping multiple tackles, for a 42-yard gain to the Sandies’ 24. Five plays later, Heard punched it into the end zone from three yards out.
“We can call a bunch of plays that we think will work on that board, but you’d better get No. 2 [Heard] going — running,” Walsh said. “Whether the blocking scheme works or not, he’s going to make something happen.”
Even though there was a lot Walsh wasn’t happy about in Saturday’s performance, particularly his team’s third- and fourth-down defense, he said he can take solace in the fact that the Wildcats won a game in which little went their way.
“They [Amarillo] did a great job of executing their game plan and dictating how that game of possession was going to go,” Walsh said. “They dictated that they were going to have the ball longer than we were, and they did it on third- and fourth-down conversions. They do a great job over there. We knew it wouldn’t be a pushover. We were hoping to get a nice lead and keep it. It just didn’t work out that way. They fought us back.
“We’re going to be better because of this today. There was some adversity. You can’t just go through the playoffs without facing some adversity.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Guyer 38, Amarillo 30
Amarillo 3 10 3 14 — 30
Guyer 7 14 7 10 — 38
G — D.J. Breedlove 14 run (Brad Grems kick), 10:39
A — Mason Edmondson 32 field goal, 3:40
G — Ellis Jefferson 43 pass from Jerrod Heard (Grems kick), 7:59
A — Ryan Sluder 4 pass from Gabe Rodriguez (Edmondson kick), 3:28
G — Heard 3 run (Grems kick), 0:59
A — Edmondson 28 field goal, 0:00
A — Edmondson 25 field goal, 3:48
G — Heard 3 run (Grems kick), 0:11
A — Blaine Prescott 5 pass from Rodriguez (Edmondson kick), 9:31
G — Grems 36 field goal, 6:37
G — Breedlove 11 run (Grems kick), 2:13
A — Sluder 7 pass from Rodriguez (Edmondson kick), 1:16
First downs 24 15
Rushing 48-217 34-269
Passing yards 243 122
Total yards 460 391
Passes 15-24-0 4-8-0
Fumbles-lost 1-1 0-0
Punts-avg. 1-29.0 2-50.0
Penalties-yards 3-20 7-55
Rushing: A — Josh Woods 22-91, Cole Sanchez 9-21, Drake Reid 9-73, Gabe Rodriguez 6-20, Colten Castleberry 1-(-3), Chase Ferrell 1-15. G — Jerrod Heard 17-155, Richard Whitaker 6-21, D.J. Breedlove 9-49, Nate Maki 2-44.
Passing: A — Gabe Rodriguez 15-24-0-243. G — Jerrod Heard 4-8-0-122.
Receiving: A — Ryan Sluder 6-98, Blaine Prescott 4-69, Chase Ferrell 1-11, Josh Woods 4-65. G — Ellis Jefferson 3-104, Jonathan Pershall 1-18.