By BRAD KEITH
(December 4, 2014) — Hico ended years of frustration against Crawford last week, and did it in a regional semifinal no less.
“I don’t know if we had ever beaten those guys,” said seventh-year Hico head coach Keith Wood, who was previously the Tigers’ defensive coordinator under Wade Williams. “I’ve been here since 1995, and I know we hadn’t beaten them since then. We had some close calls. A couple years ago we lost because we missed an extra point.”
This time the Tigers won on PAT conversions, but not of the kicking variety. Quarterback Hunter Wood’s pair of two-point conversion runs ultimately made the scoring difference in a 16-14 victory.
That, paired with the Hico defense making two key fourth-down stops in the fourth quarter and a tackle inside the one as time expired in the first half, has the Tigers right back in the state quarterfinals after reaching the semifinals in 2013.
“A lot of these guys, especially these upperclassmen, have been in a lot of big ballgames, and that was right up there with the best of them,” said Wood, whose Tigers are 21-6 the last two seasons.
Hico will need every bit of that big game experience – they are 6-1 in the playoffs the last two years – when they take on offensive juggernaut Mart in the 2A Division I Region II championship at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Waco ISD Stadium.
“Mart’s offense is like a pinball machine, they can light you up in a hurry,” said Wood. “If they find a crease and get to going north and south in the open field, you’re never going to catch them because they’re so darn fast.”
The Panther attack features quarterback De’Nerian Thomas and running back De’Marcus Cosby.
“Those are Division I skill kids, and it shows,” Wood said. “We have to play great defense across the field all the way down the line of scrimmage to contain them and try to keep them moving side-to-side, and when someone gets there we have to hold on and have everyone else jump on in a hurry.”
There are common opponents in the mix. Mart defeated Goldthwaite 41-12 early in the season, and dominated Tolar 52-14 in last week’s regional semifinals. Hico beat Goldthwaite 20-0 and Tolar 20-19 during the Tigers’ march to the 7-2A Division I district title. As for Crawford, Mart raced past the Pirates in what proved to be their own district championship game, 72-49. An injury-riddled Hico club lost to Crawford 34-13 back in week two, then of course avenged that defeat last week.
Wood believes the Tigers do have the right type of offense to limit the Panthers’ opportunities, as long as they stay in favorable down and distance situations.
“We have to be able to sustain drives and shorten the game by keeping their offense on the sideline,” Wood said. “And the other thing is, we have to finish those drives. If you run off five or six minutes but don’t score, then they score in a play or two, then you’re just shortening the game on yourself.”
It’s not as if Hico doesn’t have standouts Mart should be worried about, as well.
Duane Hyles has proven his versatility his senior season, becoming valuable as a pass catcher and not just a rusher. And while Wood and Dakota Mullins have also helped lead the Tigers, their younger brothers – Parker Wood and Hunter Mullins – and a slew of others have also found ways to contribute behind the likes of John Hartgraves and Johnny Serratt up front. It was the younger Mullins – Hunter – who scored in the first half on a pass from Wood last week, and the Turner who caught the game-tying touchdown pass with 4:05 left in the fourth quarter.
“We played the style of play we had to to give ourselves a shot last week, and now we have to go do it again this week,” said Wood. “All we can do is go be ourselves and execute our game plan and hope it gives us a chance in the end.”