In last season’s District 5-4A opener between Guyer and Azle, the game seemingly was over before it began.
Thanks to a recovered fumble on a kickoff return and an interception return for a touchdown, the Wildcats led 21-0 before five minutes had ticked off the clock and roared out to a 42-0 halftime lead before topping Azle 55-14 en route to their first outright district championship.
Guyer coach John Walsh said he knows the Hornets (2-1) he’ll see tonight at Azle are better than they showed that night a year ago, and that was proven last season when Azle nearly beat Guyer’s fourth-round playoff opponent, Birdville, earlier in the postseason.
“We’re always cautious of a trap game,” Walsh said. “We have a lot of respect for Azle. What we saw last year was not the real Azle team. We have a lot of respect for what they do.”
Not only was Azle different for the remainder of the season after it was crushed by Guyer, it’s a different team this season thanks to the player under center.
The Hornets have a legitimate threat at quarterback in Jaime King, something that Walsh said can equalize a game between two teams that might have varied levels of talent.
As a proponent of the quarterback read game, Walsh said having one as good as King or Guyer quarterback Jerrod Heard can have a major effect on a game.
“We have to control their read game,” Walsh said. “I think when you watch college or high school football, the teams that have that element even the games out, even if it’s an inferior team.
“Stopping the scheme and the kid who’s running it is a big key for us to win this game.”
Walsh said King isn’t just a running quarterback but also can hurt opponents with his arm.
“He throws it well,” Walsh said. “When I say dual-threat, he’s every essence of it. They run a lot of different option and read plays like we do. The schemes are good and the QB operating it is good, and you can’t just load the box, because they’re hitting big plays over people’s heads as well.”
If the rushing yards allowed per game by Guyer (1-2) are any indicator, the fifth-ranked Wildcats should not have much trouble.
Through three games, Guyer’s defense has allowed just 133 rushing yards on 91 carries — or 1.46 yards per carry.
“I think it [quarterback read game] could be [an equalizer], but we’re so good at stopping the run I don’t think it’s going to be a factor,” Guyer defensive end Thomas Ferguson said. “If they’re going to beat us, they’re going to beat us by passing. We’ll stop the run.”
As all of District 5-4A had last week off before beginning district play this week, Guyer was able to recover and refresh mentally and physically.
From the injury standpoint, the Wildcats have several players who are working their way back to 100 percent health. This week will see the first significant action for perhaps their best offensive lineman, Bryan Barrett, who will return in time to replace the newly injured Jordan Thompson.
It’s just the latest move in a revolving door on the offensive line — a problem that hasn’t affected Guyer’s offense, which has produced nearly 33 points per game against three quality Class 5A opponents.
With Barrett’s return to the lineup, the Wildcats have three offensive linemen who opened the season as starters, even though Barrett has moved from left tackle to right guard.
“We have really great players that were out originally like Barrett, and now he’s coming back to fill in for another guy,” right tackle Kyle Soltero said. “We know we have all these people that are ready to play.
“Just to know that if I get hurt or if someone else does, that place will be filled and taken care of if I don’t come back at all, or until I get back, is a good feeling.”
Walsh praised not only his seven or eight guys who have seen significant time up front but also his assistant coaches for seeing to it that the Wildcats’ offense didn’t miss a beat despite all of the injuries up front.
“It’s a credit to those kids for learning what we do,” Walsh said. “We don’t just zone block, we have a lot of scheme you have to learn. It’s hard to learn left then right, inside then outside.
“It’s a credit to the coaches that coach them. [Mitch] Stovall, [Jeffrey] Barnett and [Fred] Norris do a great job of mixing those guys in and out of practice and having them prepared to play multiple spots.”
Several players are scheduled to return next week against Denton, including starting cornerbacks Will Sanders and DeMarcus Owens.
But first thing’s first for Guyer, and all that’s on the Wildcats’ minds is the start of a district campaign and the grind they face without another break after last week’s bye.
“At the start of district play there’s always some newness to it,” Walsh said. “We talk about three seasons [nondistrict, district and playoffs], and we’re starting the second one. Azle is a team that’s supposed to be in the mix, so we’re starting district and there’s a formidable opponent in front of us. It adds to the anticipation of district starting.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872 and via Twitter at @aboedeker.