Nate Maki’s presence was felt throughout C.H. Collins Athletic Complex on Thursday night, hours after his teammates attended his funeral.
From the pregame tribute, to Guyer’s captains carrying a signed Maki jersey out to midfield for the opening coin toss, the senior fullback who was killed Saturday night was heavy on his teammates’ minds.
When Tyler Smith, one of Maki’s best friends and normally an inside receiver, lined up at fullback at the Colleyville Heritage 3-yard line to punch in the game’s opening touchdown, everyone on Guyer’s side of the stadium knew the significance of the play, and the Wildcats battled for the remainder of the game for a 35-14 victory.
“I knew if we were in that end zone, that the mom and family were there,” Guyer head coach John Walsh said of the plan he devised Tuesday — Guyer’s lone practice day this week. “Best friend, hand it off, give it to the mom — yeah, that’s it.”
Smith gave the ball to Maki’s brother, who was sitting in the front row of the stands near the 15-yard line.
“I knew when I got the ball I was gonna score,” Smith said. “I knew I was going to do it for Nate. It was awesome. It was a great feeling.
“I just did the [33 hand gesture for Maki’s jersey number] and kissed it.”
The Wildcats (1-1) suffered through emotional ups and downs and had some expected lapses of focus but turned a tied game in the third quarter into a 21-point victory to avenge last season’s 54-38 loss to the Panthers.
Football wasn’t foremost for anyone on the Guyer sideline, but Walsh said he was happy with the way his team responded after an emotional week that included Thursday morning’s funeral for their teammate.
“I’m extremely happy about the football end,” Walsh said. “I told them after the game that minus all the football and X’s and O’s, I’m just proud of how they handled the whole week.”
After forcing a three-and-out on Heritage’s opening series, Guyer looked poised to score in a hurry after marching down the field on six plays — none of which gained less than seven yards.
But on the seventh play, running back D.J. Breedlove ran for 6 yards to the Heritage 1-yard line when the ball was jarred loose and recovered by the Panthers.
There were other mistakes, too: busted coverages, running into the kicker penalties and more, but Walsh said the Wildcats cured the woes at halftime. That was evidenced by their second-half performance when they outscored Heritage 21-0 to close the game.
“I don’t think we were flat,” Walsh said. “I think we were just being stupid. Third down we were getting penalties and backing ourselves up. One day of practice, I’ll give that excuse, but I don’t think we were too flat. We just weren’t playing smart Guyer football.”
Breedlove redeemed himself for his early fumble by rushing for 87 yards and two scores in addition to his team-leading 44 receiving yards and another touchdown.
Guyer senior quarterback Jerrod Heard, a Texas pledge, carried the ball 21 times for 137 yards and completed 14 of his 22 pass attempts for 145 yards and two touchdowns.
Junior running back Anthony Taylor added 82 yards on eight carries for Guyer.
“They’re veterans,” Walsh said of Breedlove and Heard. “With the loss of Nathan, it really changes our dynamic in the backfield. I’m really leaning on those two guys.”
Guyer’s defense showed flashes of the Wildcats’ defenses of old that stymied opponents, especially on the ground. Walsh has raved throughout fall workouts that the unit had a chance to be special, and on Thursday it showed why he feels that way.
The Wildcats racked up nine sacks, including three from Derek Watson and 1 1/2 apiece from Thomas Ferguson and Carl Thompson.
Guyer held Heritage (0-2) to 181 total yards, including just a single rushing yard on 27 carries after the Panthers scored 42 points in a loss to Duncanville last week.
“I knew we were going to be good defensively,” Walsh said. “We still have a lot of stuff to fix. We’re still fitting wrong on the perimeter, and that’s what [nondistrict play] is for. Come playoff time, the defense we’ve been talking about is going to come to fruition.”
But Thursday’s win was about No. 33 for the Wildcats, who was bid his final farewell by his teammates earlier in the day.
“This week was hard,” Smith said. “It was a tough week. This morning we went to the service, and it was good closure. Everyone was a little bit better than we were before. Tonight, winning was obviously big. I mean, it was all for Nate, though. We all played our hearts out. We did it for him.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872 and via Twitter at @aboedeker.
Guyer 35, Colleyville Heritage 14
DG — Tyler Smith 3 run (Brad Grems kick)
Rushing — CY: Demarco Corbin 9-20, Jake Newell 1-0, Griffin Pickler 15--4, Clayton Oliver 2--15, DG: Jerrod Heard 21-137, DJ Breedlove 13-87, Anthony Taylor 8-82, David Haynes 5-6, Tyler Smith 1-3, Team Stat 1--6.
Passing — CY: Griffin Pickler 13-18-0-150, Clayton Oliver 4-6-0-30, DG: Jerrod Heard 14-22-0-145, David Haynes 1-1-0-20.
Receiving — CY: Demarco Corbin 5-73, Jacob Sisk 4-40, Jake Newell 4-40, Trey Smith 3-18, Jackson Zeledon 1-9, DG: