Last season, after cruising through the District 5-4A schedule and the first round of the playoffs, Guyer ran into the three-time defending Class 4A Division II state champion Aledo Bearcats in the second round.
The Wildcats quickly turned up their intensity during the week leading up to that game, and it showed with a 42-30 win that wasn’t as close as the score suggested, and Guyer ended Aledo’s reign.
With the same scenario playing out this season, Guyer (9-2) rolled to a 69-7 win over Saginaw in the first round of the playoffs and now prepares for what could be the Wildcats’ toughest test in their region as they face Waco (8-3) tonight at Mansfield’s Vernon Newsom Stadium.
“We put the film on, and we realized real quick that this is a game that was going to be highly competitive,” Guyer coach John Walsh said of Waco. “They have a lot of talent and are on a roll.
“The mood is different. You get in a routine of what’s been happening, and the intensity and focus have definitely changed up here. It’s been real exciting.”
It’s easy to see why Guyer has been searching for a stiff challenge that it expects to get from the Lions. Over Guyer’s last five games, the Wildcats have outscored their opponents 310-50.
“I’ve been waiting for a good opponent for a while,” Guyer junior safety Jordan Wallace said. “Not saying that other teams aren’t good, but knowing we have good competition coming up, it’s a good feeling. You can feel it all around this place.”
That was evidenced by what Walsh said was the Wildcats’ best practice of the year on Monday, and another one Tuesday that nearly lived up to the lofty statement.
And if anyone is going to get the welcomed challenge from a Waco team that has won five straight games and outscored opponents 230-54 over that span, it’s Wallace and his teammates in Guyer’s secondary.
The only test the group has had comparable to Waco this season was Cedar Hill in Guyer’s 38-28 season-opening loss, in which the Longhorns passed for 278 yards and two touchdowns. But Wallace said things have changed.
“We’ve learned a lot since Cedar Hill,” said Wallace, a first-year starter along with fellow safety Ian Edwards, who both were playing in their first varsity game against Cedar Hill. “We’ve grown a lot since then.”
The Lions’ biggest receiving threat is senior Tyler Taylor, who has 879 yards and 14 touchdowns on the season with an average of more than 25 yards per catch. Several of his big plays have been of the catch-and-run variety, and the Wildcats know they must be sure tacklers tonight to prevent big plays.
“Missed first tackles is a touchdown against these guys,” Wallace said. “And you can’t let them behind you because they’re real fast. We just have to keep everything in front of us and be good tacklers.”
Offensively, Guyer could have an advantage if the weather turns nasty as expected. Meteorologists are forecasting a 90 percent chance of rain and low temperatures in the 30s — not exactly ideal conditions to throw the ball around.
That could play into the hands of the Wildcats and their dominant, three-headed rushing attack.
This season, with starters often playing just more than a half, Guyer has three runners with a good chance of hitting the 1,000-yard mark. Quarterback Jerrod Heard is already there with 1,459 yards and 19 touchdowns on the ground. Behind him are the Wildcats’ two running backs, Anthony Taylor (891 yards, 14 touchdowns) and D.J. Breedlove (861 yards, 14 touchdowns).
Anthony Taylor said the Lions’ defense is full of speed but is nothing the Wildcats can’t work around.
“They have speed and they fly around to the ball,” Anthony Taylor said. “I just know they’re fast — every single one of them. I think we can beat them just running the ball. They’ll beat our speed, but we have the physical and power advantage.”
Walsh said that is the way his offense always has been built — in the weight room and on the ground.
“I feel we’ve always played speed well because we feel like we’re pretty fast too,” Walsh said, “but we’re a downhill football team. We’re going to challenge an opponent on a physical level and not make any bones about it. And we’re going to do the same thing against Waco on Friday night. It won’t be any different.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872 and via Twitter at @aboedeker.