When Lake Dallas is at its best, the Falcons are throwing the ball all over the field and hitting on big plays to their playmakers.
Unfortunately for the Falcons, they’re without several of those playmakers heading into tonight’s showdown with The Associated Press’ sixth-ranked Class 4A team, Guyer.
Injuries to Lake Dallas’ top two receivers, Josh Jackson and Keegan Brewer, and starting running back Courtenay Holder surely are a blow, but the Falcons still have one big weapon in sophomore quarterback Dagan Haehn, who has been Guyer’s primary focus all week.
“I really like the quarterback,” Guyer coach John Walsh said of Haehn. “He’s got a lot of big-play ability in him. He’s got great scrambling ability, and he’s not just turning into a runner. He’s scrambling looking to pass, and if nothing’s there at the last second he’s still picking up good acreage. From what I’ve seen, if I’m [Lake Dallas coach Michael Young] I’m liking what I’ve got this year and the next two years.”
Haehn has completed 62 percent of his passes for 1,346 yards, 21 touchdowns and five interceptions while rushing for 295 yards and three more scores.
Walsh said he fully expects the Falcons to stay in their patented four- and five-wide receiver sets throughout the game and let Haehn try to beat the Wildcats through the air — and with his feet, as he is now the team’s leading rusher if Holder doesn’t play.
“They’ve never been a team that’s going to grind out first downs,” Walsh said. “They’ve always looked to run a route combination they’ve schemed for your defense and exploit it. We’ve talked to our secondary and our safeties, especially, not letting anything over the top. We expect them to gun it all over the place and hope to not let big plays happen.”
Young, on the other hand, knows what his team excels at but also said the Falcons have to try to go on sustained drives, not only to tire the Guyer defense but also to keep Haehn’s counterpart, Texas pledge Jerrod Heard, and his offensive teammates off the field.
“You have to move the chains against them and keep their offense off the field,” Young said. “A big part of our plan this week is just to keep the chains moving and keep the ball as much as possible. If we get down on their end, we have to score points, though. That’s the main thing, and field goals don’t cut it against them. We have to score touchdowns.”
Guyer safety Jordan Wallace said his main objective tonight is to help his defense get off the field on third downs and stop the Falcons from achieving what Young wants from them offensively.
“We have to get off the field on third down,” Wallace said. “We really have to focus on that this week. The first game [of the season] against Cedar Hill, we had a lot of trouble on that, but we’ve gotten better. [Haehn] can hurt you if you don’t.”
One thing Guyer has improved on dramatically this year is its secondary play, which was perceived as the team’s weak link last season when the Wildcats won the Class 4A Division I state championship. The improved secondary won’t have to worry about Jackson and Brewer, who have combined for 907 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns this season.
The Falcons, however, could see the return of their leading returning receiver from 2012, as C.J. Harris could be back from a broken arm he suffered on the first day of practice in full pads in August.
Young said the improvement in Guyer’s secondary is noticeable, and they’re helped by a relentless front four that can pressure quarterbacks without the help of a blitz.
“I wouldn’t say it [Guyer’s secondary] is a weak link, but they’re so good up front that the way you have to attack them is through the air,” Young said. “I do think, by far, this is the best I’ve seen their secondary play. They’re really sound with what they do, and they tackle well. They keep things in front of them. They have a good pass rush with four guys and really make it hard on you since they don’t have to blitz to put pressure on you.”
While Lake Dallas will be trying to beat Guyer through the air, the Wildcats will be dead set on beating the Falcons with what they do best — running the football.
Walsh took the blame for some offensive hiccups in last week’s win over Trophy Club Nelson when Heard completed just four of his 16 pass attempts. Heard and running back D.J. Breedlove each eclipsed 100 yards on the ground and another running back, Anthony Taylor, got close to the mark.
This week, Walsh said, the Wildcats plan on getting back to their roots.
“It’s time for us to get that way,” Walsh said. “[Against Nelson], some of our choppiness offensively was things I was calling on first down. We’re going to get to what we do. We’re fixing to hit November, and we need to be pounding the ball and not playing with things we don’t need to be playing with.
“We’re fixing to get to the meat of what we are. You’re going to see Guyer coming downhill from here on out.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872 and via Twitter at @aboedeker.