Jerrod Heard has waited for quite some time to play at Wichita Falls’ Memorial Stadium.
Guyer’s senior quarterback, who has orally committed to Texas, was in eighth grade the last time the Wildcats played a game in Wichita Falls — a year before moving up to Class 5A for a two-year stint.
Now, in a way, Heard will have a chance to get back to his roots when he leads No. 6 Guyer (5-2, 4-0 District 5-4A) against Wichita Falls Rider (6-1, 4-0) in a game that could end up deciding the district championship.
“It means a lot to me,” said Heard, whose mother grew up in Wichita Falls and played basketball and ran track at Wichita Falls High School and has a family member who coaches in the Rider program. “It’s like we have here at C.H. Collins — it’s that home-field advantage. You feel unstoppable at your house, so we’ll just have to come out hard and start fast.”
Heard isn’t the only person who has had tonight circled on their calender for some time. Last season, with both teams undefeated entering a game in Denton, Guyer topped Rider 21-10, by far the Wildcats’ closest district game. That win secured the first outright district championship in program history, and Guyer went on to win the Class 4A Division I state championship while Rider advanced to the 4A Division II semifinals.
“We’ve kind of been cruising [in district play] knowing we’re going into games in good shape for the last five or six weeks,” Guyer coach John Walsh said. “We’re at a point now where if we don’t treat this game a little differently we won’t come out on the good end.”
Last year’s game was proof of that. Other than that matchup, Guyer outscored its district opponents 344-63. But Rider coach Jim Garfield, who was a longtime defensive coordinator before taking over as the Raiders’ head coach, always has had a good plan to contain the Wildcats.
Last season, the Raiders’ plan was to play keepaway, and it kept the game close into the fourth quarter. Walsh said he fully expects the same thing tonight.
“They will try to milk the clock,” Walsh said. “He’s a defensive coordinator, so they want to hold on to the ball, play good defense and be close in the fourth quarter. Every year we’ve played, except in 2009, it’s been that way.”
But to do that, the Raiders will have to hold on to the ball, which has been a problem this year for Guyer’s opponents, thanks to what looks to be the best defense Guyer has fielded.
Through seven games, Guyer has allowed just 206.1 yards per game, and only 42.7 yards per game on the ground. Walsh said Rider is an effective running team but it makes its living through the air, especially on big plays to athletic outside receivers Davon Allison and T.J. Vasher.
“They have two Division I receivers, one for sure in Vasher,” Walsh said. “They like to throw the ball and they can big-play you. You have to stop the big plays on the edge with the outside guys. If you stop that, you have a good shot.
“They’re going to catch their balls; we just can’t let them big-play us. We haven’t been big-played since Cedar Hill. We can’t let them ‘Cedar Hill’ us. If that happens, we could be in trouble. Those wideouts are good. They go up and make some freaky catches.”
Allison has eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards on the season and leads the team with 10 touchdown receptions, and Guyer outside linebacker Demontrie Taylor knows he is what makes Rider’s offense go.
“He’s a really good athlete, but he doesn’t like taking hits,” Taylor said. “He runs out of bounds a lot. He wants to make plays but not get killed. We have to hit him and make him want to quit and stop moving around so much.”
Offensively, the Wildcats are coming off a game that saw them score 66 points against Lake Dallas by running the ball early and often and utilizing all of their weapons in the running game.
Walsh praised the Raiders for running a simple, consistent defensive scheme — always a 3-4 and always with seven or eight guys in the box — and their commitment to stopping the run. That will be a tall task for the Raiders, who must contain Heard and running backs D.J. Breedlove and Anthony Taylor and force Heard to throw the ball.
“Defending Guyer? What I like about the game of football is you’re trying to match your moves with the other man’s moves and you have to be in the correct spot at the right time,” Garfield said. “Can they tackle Heard in space? I think we can. But that’s the key — that it can’t be just one guy.
“[Guyer] is so diverse in what they’re doing that you have to be good on your reads. You can’t be a step behind.”
Knowing that Rider will load up the box to stop Guyer’s bread and butter doesn’t mean Walsh immediately will turn to throwing the ball, though the Guyer coach did say his team must take advantage of what’s presented by the Raider defense.
“We just have to capitalize when they give us opportunities in the passing game,” Walsh said. “We’re still going to run it, though. We know we have to use our tight ends and fullbacks against these guys, because no matter what they’re going to have the same amount of guys in the box.
“Either we commit to spread them out and get one-on-one matchups or we bring those guys into block. I think people know us well enough that we’re going to do a little bit of the one-on-one matchups, but we’re going to put our big boys in and we’re gonna get ugly.”
If that strength vs. strength matchup tilts in Guyer’s favor and the Wildcats win their 18th consecutive game against 4A opponents since moving back to 4A prior to the 2012 season, the Wildcats will all but have locked up their second straight outright district championship.
“It’s always nice to have those in your back pocket,” Taylor said of district titles. “It’s a confidence builder moving forward.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872 and via Twitter at @aboedeker.