Argyle has lost only once in its previous 26 games, but there’s a small blemish that is unaccounted for in the midst of that run.
That blemish occurred over the summer, when the Graham Steers defeated the Eagles in the Division II bracket of the 7-on-7 state tournament — a potential Argyle victory foiled on the game’s final play.
In reality, 7-on-7 doesn’t count for anything other than bragging rights and some summer conditioning. Five months later, the two teams will meet with something far greater up for grabs.
Argyle (14-0) faces Graham (14-0) at 6 p.m. today at Northwest ISD Athletic Complex in Justin in the Class 3A Division II state semifinals. The winner moves on to face Fairfield (14-0) or Sinton (12-2) in the state championship game at 4 p.m. Friday at Arlington’s AT&T Stadium.
“I don’t know if teams earlier in the playoffs have that vision of getting to [AT&T] Stadium and have a taste of it,” Argyle coach Todd Rodgers said. “They want to, but they don’t understand what it’s going to take and who you have to beat to get there.
“We’ve had a taste of it, and I think we understand what that hurdle is, and I think Graham does too.”
Argyle has been to the state final two times, including a 2011 trip that saw the Eagles lose to Wimberley in the 3A Division II title game.
Graham’s only state championship game appearance was a 2009 loss to Carthage in the 3A Division II final. The Steers reached the state semifinals last season but lost 50-7 to Gilmer, the team that knocked Argyle out of the playoffs a season ago.
This summer in Round Rock, the Steers defeated Argyle 33-31 in the 7-on-7 tournament. On the final play of the game, Argyle wide receiver Ian Sadler appeared to haul in a game-winning touchdown as he was falling down near the back right corner of the end zone.
The referee in the end zone ruled the play a touchdown, but a referee farther from the play called the pass incomplete.
“I think a lot of us are bitter about it, but it’s got nothing to do with the game,” Sadler said.
If anything, it’s a testament to the competitiveness that’s pushed Argyle to the No. 1 ranking in 3A by The Associated Press in the final regular-season poll.
“We have a bunch of really competitive kids, and they want that,” Rodgers said. “They’d be the same way if it was a checkers match, or chess match or whatever. If they’re playing Trouble, the board game, they’re competitive.
“They’re highly competitive kids. It’s why they’re where they are.”
The Eagles will face a Graham team that features senior quarterback Ben Davis. Davis has thrown for 3,707 yards, 41 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Senior running back Dillon Gonzales has rushed for 1,601 yards and 28 touchdowns. Senior receiver Bryce Reeves has a team-high 1,338 yards and 14 touchdowns.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” Argyle senior defensive lineman Micah Capra said. “What we kind of relate it to is kind of a Gilmer/Melissa look. They pass the ball quite a bit, so that’s going to be something for our corners to take care of. For our defense, we just have to get pressure on the quarterback.”
Graham coach Kenny Davidson concedes that Argyle has rightfully earned its ranking as the top 3A team in the state. Led by Sadler, who has orally committed to Texas Tech, and junior running back Nick Ralston, the Eagles are averaging 52.6 points per game and 404 yards per contest.
“We haven’t played a team like Argyle yet, that’s for sure,” Davidson said. “Argyle has the whole package. You can’t look at them and say there’s a weak area.”
Both teams are looking for their first state championship. For Argyle’s seniors, it’s something they’ve wanted even more after finishing second as sophomores. Today’s game puts them one step closer to achieving that goal.
“We’ve been talking about this ever since we lost that game [against Wimberley],” Capra said. “Just wait. Just wait until we get our chance. This is our year.”
BEN BABY can be reached at 940-566-6869 and via Twitter at @Ben_Baby.