On paper, tonight’s regional final rematch between Guyer and Birdville looks to be a classic matchup of strength vs. strength — Birdville’s top-ranked rushing offense in the area and Guyer’s No. 1 rush defense.
Guyer head coach John Walsh sees the game differently.
Walsh said he and his players are all aware of Birdville running back Xavier Turner’s 2,857 rushing yards and 50 touchdowns. He’s also aware of fullback Isaiah Duarte’s 979 yards on the ground. Even quarterback Will Hayward has rushed for nearly 800 yards, all of which amounts to a Hawks’ rushing game that averages 410 yards per game on the ground.
But that doesn’t concern Walsh, not with a Guyer defense that allows just 80 rushing yards per game heading into tonight’s Class 4A Division I Region I final at 7:30 p.m. at UNT’s Apogee Stadium. The game will be broadcast on KDNT 88.1 FM with the pre-game beginning at 7 p.m.
“The normal guy would say stopping their run is the key, but we’re going to play good run defense,” Walsh said. “The key is not to let other things happen. They’re going to run the ball, and we’re going to play great run defense. That’s not a concern at Guyer High School.”
Walsh cited two playoff games in recent years in which the Wildcats (11-2) stopped a team’s offensive strength but were hurt by something they weren’t expecting. There was last season’s win over Amarillo, in which Guyer shut down the wing-T rushing attack only to be hurt by third-down play-action passes. Then there was the 2008 state semifinal loss against Longview, when Guyer shut down the Lobos’ vaunted rushing attack only to be torched by deep passes over the top of its secondary.
“The concern for me is that they do something they don’t do often against us,” Walsh said of the Hawks (11-2). “Longview in 2008, I knew we’d play good run defense and they didn’t throw deep at all, and then they had three 80-yard touchdown passes against us.”
Hayward is a capable passer with 1,559 yards and 15 touchdown passes, but he doesn’t drive the Hawks’ offense by any means.
Turner, a big, punishing back, turned in the best rushing performance in recent memory against Guyer in last year’s fourth-round playoff game — a 52-42 victory en route to the Wildcats’ Class 4A Division I state title.
The senior running back had 19 carries for 146 yards with two scores in that game a year ago and added a receiving touchdown.
“He doesn’t go down easy,” defensive tackle Carl Thompson said. “He keeps his legs moving through tackles. No arm tackle is going to bring him down. You have to put your face on him.
“We’re a better defense this year than we were last year. It’s not happening for them this year.”
If last week’s 63-21 win over Amarillo, a stark contrast to last year’s 38-30 win over the Sandies, is any indication, Guyer could benefit from now being familiar with the Hawks’ offense, which relies even more heavily on the run this year than it did a year ago.
“We can scheme for them better now,” Guyer defensive end Thomas Ferguson said. “Last year, they hit us with some stuff we weren’t expecting and they gashed us. We know what they’re going to do now, just like Amarillo.”
The game this evening will mark the third playoff rematch from last season in four weeks for Guyer. It’s also the final one of the season as the teams Guyer beat in the state semifinal (Tyler John Tyler) and state championship game (Georgetown) last year have already been eliminated from postseason play.
Walsh said playing a team two straight years in the playoffs adds even more fuel to the competitive fire, especially when the opponent exploited something in the previous matchup. Birdville racked up 42 points, 479 total yards (216 rushing) and 24 first downs against Guyer a year ago, and Walsh said his players haven’t forgotten about it.
“Any time you have a repeat game in the playoffs, you remember the good and bad things that happened,” Walsh said. “We’ve watched the film from last year, and they don’t like seeing the ball getting run on them and getting first downs through the air. After last week [against Amarillo] — we’re a confident program — but last week helped our confidence even more.”
And that confidence has trickled all throughout the Wildcats’ program, as they are three wins away from defending their state championship.
Just ask Thompson.
“It doesn’t matter to me if we’ve played them or not,” Thompson said. “We’re just going to come out and play and execute like we always do. It doesn’t matter who’s lining up against us.
“We’re planning to shut them down like we do everybody else. It’s not going to be much of a difference.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872 and via Twitter at @aboedeker.