Of all the weeks for Guyer to face its first true passing team of the year, Wildcats coach John Walsh probably would not have preferred this one.
A berth in the Class 4A Division I state final will be on the line today when Guyer faces Highland Park at 1 p.m. at Allen’s Eagle Stadium on a seemingly unprecedented short week of preparation following last weekend’s ice storm.
The Scots (13-1) present a true spread offense — the first Guyer has seen since the final two games of the 2012 season when it beat Tyler John Tyler and Georgetown to claim the 4A Division I state title it’s looking to defend next weekend at Arlington’s AT&T Stadium.
“It’s nothing to our kids,” said Walsh, whose team defeated Birdville in the regional final Monday, the same night Highland Park beat Wylie. “It’s a blessing to them. They’ve gotten rest. We had a light practice [Wednesday]. We’ll get after it [Thursday]. Getting to a game quick is good for our kids.
“The hard part was for our coaches to come up with a good game plan for our kids and get that all set before we practiced. As far as the players, I like it. As far as the coaches for preparation, it was a quick 36 hours.”
It isn’t uncharted territory for Guyer (12-2), which dealt with a similar kink in its normal schedule this season following the death of senior fullback Nate Maki over Labor Day weekend. Guyer played on a Thursday night before that incident and didn’t practice until the following Tuesday and Wednesday. They played again on Thursday and beat Colleyville Heritage 35-14, before having to forfeit the game after self-reporting use of an ineligible player.
So just two days of preparation is nothing new for the Wildcats, especially when considering several of the team’s seniors have played deep into December throughout their careers.
“Most of these kids have practiced and played so much football, these seniors, we could literally hand these guys the game plan and go,” Walsh said. “They’re just so football smart, practice isn’t really necessary for the offense. I think it’s more for the defense. It’s just crazy how smart we are.
“Practice is for those people who need it. By Week 15, our kids are prepared.”
This week, Guyer’s defense has been preparing to face its first true spread attack since a calendar year ago.
The Scots’ passing game is led by junior quarterback Brooks Burgin, who has thrown for 3,307 yards and 31 touchdowns with just eight interceptions. He’s rushed for 701 yards and nine scores.
Burgin and his five wide receivers, who all have at least 23 catches, will be a test for Guyer’s secondary — a unit Walsh has raved about all season.
“That’s the big challenge for us,” Walsh said. “When you get into Round 5 or 6, there’s going to be something that makes you uncomfortable as a head coach. This is the first offensive scheme we’ve faced where the goal is to move the ball through the air and then just run it some.”
Walsh said that whenever his team faces a pass-heavy team, he reminds his players of the 2009 season, when Guyer was torched through the air by prolific Ryan quarterback Scotty Young in the regular-season finale before Guyer intercepted Young five times in a regional final win that December. Walsh said the key to that change was the fact that the Wildcats were able to pressure Young and disrupt his timing. The same plan will be in place for Burgin.
“We’ve been working on our pass rush a lot this week,” said defensive end Thomas Ferguson, who leads Guyer with nine sacks. “We’re definitely going to mess with their quarterback. We have to switch up the coverages and mix a lot of things up. We’re going to mess with him. That’s the big thing.”
When Guyer has the ball, the Wildcats will have to deal with a physical, well-coached defensive front that might be the Scots’ strength, Walsh said.
“They’re technicians,” Walsh said of Highland Park’s front seven. “They do a great job and they’re really strong. There’s not a slow, chubby kid up there. They’re built Ford tough, and they’re coming after you.”
That front seven is led by defensive end Andrew Clyde and inside linebackers Brooks Oden and Tanner Houghton, and those three have been the main focus for Guyer quarterback Jerrod Heard, a senior and a Texas pledge.
On Monday night, Heard played perhaps the second-best game of his career, other than Guyer’s state championship win over Georgetown. He rushed for 212 yards and went 11-of-14 for 135 yards and a score.
Walsh said it is imperative that Heard and his offensive teammates continue their trend of taking care of the football against a team like Highland Park, which rarely makes mistakes.
Guyer has just 13 turnovers in its 14 games, and has 17 takeaways on defense. As of late, the Wildcats’ ratio is even more in their favor.
Heard said he feels like his team is on the right track to defending its state championship in what he hopes is the final game of his high school career on Friday.
“We’re almost to that peak,” Heard said. “We’re peaking, but we still haven’t met our max performance yet. We’re happy with where we’re at, and we have momentum going into these last two games.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872 and via Twitter at @aboedeker.