ARGYLE — Since Liberty Christian head coach Greg Price was promoted from his position of offensive coordinator following the 2008 season, the Warriors have faced Fort Worth Nolan every year.
With each meeting, the Warriors have had the same disappointing result, but this season they get another crack at the Vikings today for a shot to advance to the TAPPS 5A Division I state championship game when the district foes meet at Keller ISD Stadium.
Price is 0-5 as a head coach against the Vikings, and until this season it had been since 2010 that the Warriors had even scored a point against Nolan. Just four weeks ago, Nolan beat the Warriors 41-31, in a game that was relatively close despite five Liberty Christian turnovers.
Price gave a sigh of relief when he talked about his team breaking its two-year scoring drought against the Vikings.
“I don’t know about the kids. We’ve done a good job of scoring all year long, so I think they expected to score,” he said. “If you score 31 on Nolan you probably have a good chance of winning, because they don’t usually put up a lot of points, but they obviously can.”
On that night four weeks ago, the Vikings (8-4) scored 35 points in the first half, thanks in large part to Liberty Christian turnovers. In the second half, the Warriors outscored Nolan 10-6 but lost some offensive fire with a season-ending injury to wide receiver Justus Lee.
So this week, as the Warriors (9-3) try to beat Nolan to advance to their first state championship game in TAPPS’ largest classification, they have two main objectives: hold on to the football and stop the run.
“We’ve got to eliminate turnovers and be successful in all three phases of the game,” said senior JonAaron Howell, the Warriors’ dynamic running back and safety, who rarely leaves the field. “We got killed in the kicking game last game, so we have to be better there. But mainly, we’ve got to stop the run. That’s how you beat Nolan.”
As the most experienced member of the Warriors’ secondary, Howell knows he must help lead the defense and not allow his teammates to play out of position, and right into the hands of the Vikings’ offense.
“They’re very patient and methodical,” Howell said of Nolan’s offense. “They never panic. They were down 14-0 in their last game and kept being methodical and pounding it and just got back in the game. They’ve always been like that and are very patient. They don’t panic. That’s their best asset.”
The Vikings run the ball and don’t rely on the pass much at all, led by running back Luke Alves’ 1,559 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns. Nolan makes opponents forget about the pass and then hits the occasional big play on play-action passes.
“You have to be disciplined and do what you’re coached to do,” Price said. “They do a good job of lulling you to sleep and making you step up on the run. You have to make sure you’re doing your job. You can’t get overzealous and try to do someone else’s job for the desire to make a play.
“They don’t beat you with the pass. They keep the chains moving with the pass. You do that enough and you’re going to get in the end zone.”
Another way to stop the Vikings’ grinding offense, Howell said, is to keep the ball in the Warriors’ hands.
Howell and quarterback Colby Moore have formed a dynamic duo and have taken even more weight on their shoulders since Lee’s season ended the last time they met Nolan.
Howell and Moore each have 14 rushing touchdowns and are separated by just 25 rushing yards with Moore leading the way at 1,252 yards as a dual-threat quarterback who has thrown for just more than 2,000 yards and 23 touchdowns.
“Our best defense is keeping our offense on the field driving on them so our defense doesn’t have to be against their big guys up front,” Howell said. “The longer we’re on the field, the longer the other team’s offense is off the field. Their offense is better than their defense, so we want to keep them off the field as much as possible.”
Howell, a senior who has been a major contributor since his sophomore season, said the coaching staff broke down the Warriors’ possible playoff road long ago, and so far it’s played out just how they expected.
Last week, the Warriors eliminated Austin St. Michael’s — a team they had never previously beaten and ended their season against in two of the past three years.
This week, they have a chance to beat Nolan for the first time since 2007, and then a possible state title game matchup with Plano Prestonwood, a team Howell has never beaten.
“It was a storybook playoff run besides the first game [against San Antonio Central Catholic], which was cool just because it was home, then we beat St. Michael’s and then we have Nolan this week,” Howell said. “If we win, we could play Prestonwood who we’ve never beaten since I’ve been in high school. It’d be a huge win to beat Nolan to get state, and so far, everything’s fallen into place for a pretty cool story.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872 and via Twitter at @aboedeker.