By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (November 12, 2015) — For all Stephenville has been through this season, the Yellow Jackets still have the opportunity to achieve something they have spent the last 20 plus seasons making the norm – winning in the playoffs.
“We’re all zero and zero now because it doesn’t matter what your record is,” said first year Stephenville head coach Greg Winder. “It doesn’t matter if you’re 10-0 or if you’re 2-8 really, you have to line up and win each and every week in order to advance.”
It’s the do-or-die world of the single elimination high school football playoffs, and this season, it’s geared perfectly for a Stephenville team to pull some upsets and grab momentum.
As the fourth-place finisher in 3-4A Division I, Stephenville faces Decatur, the district champ in 4-4A Division I, in a bi-district playoff Friday at Aledo’s Bearcat Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
“Decatur has a good football team. They’re not a whole lot different than when we saw them last year,” said Winer.
That game was an instant classic, won by Stephenville on a halfback pass in triple overtime after the Yellow Jackets erased a 10 point deficit in the final minutes of regulation.
“We went back and watched it and charted 228 snaps,” said Winder of the thrilling marathon played between these teams in the same round last season. “I can’t say I expect it to go like that again, but I think it will be a good football game Friday.”
As long as Stephenville avoids giving away points. They handed Abilene Wylie 14 last week in the form of an interception and a muffed punt, and lost 24-14 to the top ranked club in the region according to the Texas High School Coaches Association.
It’s been a disturbing trend. Turnovers and safeties helped Brownwood and Snyder to insurmountable leads. Not that the Yellow Jackets didn’t try to prove they could overcome a big deficit – they lost 45-42 to Snyder, scoring 28 unanswered points after trailing 45-14 at intermission.
“We can still line up and play with anyone. But we can’t give teams points, that has to stop now,” Winder said.
Decatur is a quarterback driven team led by Tyler Ticknor, a scrambler who keeps plays alive and often makes them himself with his feet. Ticknor averages more than 80 yards rushing per game but passes for just 115. Jake Kemp comes in and passes for 85 yards per game, helping them balance an offense that also averages 200 yards on the ground.
“We have to contain the quarterback, that’s the key,” said Winder. “He’s a good football player. What they end up doing isn’t always what’s drawn up, but he keeps things alive and trusts guys to get open and help him make plays. If not, he can take off on his own.”
Stephenville has allowed only two offensive touchdowns over the past 10 quarters.
“I think defensively we’ll play well again and give ourselves a chance to win,” Winder said.
Offense is where many of the troubles have come for Stephenville, and that’s rare for those used to seeing the scoreboard lights popping at any stadium the can fans invade.
But outside of being shut down for much of the night against the ever-strong Wylie defense, the Yellow Jackets have improved on that side of the ball recently, as well.
At least that’s what the numbers suggest. Stephenville has scored 75 points the last 10 quarters, more than a touchdown per quarter despite scoring just 14 at Wylie. That’s 11 points more, by the way, than Brownwood, the runner up in 3-4A Division I, could muster against league champ Wylie.
Take away the Wylie contest and the Yellow Jackets scored 61 points over six quarters.
“I know we’re getting better, I see it every day,” said Winder. “We just have to stay away from the negative plays that keep us from showing it on Friday night.”
Especially in the state playoffs, where avoiding such plays has long been a staple of deep Stephenville runs. The Yellow Jackets have reached the quarterfinals each of the last five seasons. They have not lost in bi-district since 2004.
The consecutive quarterfinal runs came under head coach Joseph Gillespie, while Winder was coordinating one of the top offenses in the state. When asked bout his first post season as a head coach, Winder said he had not even thought about it.
“We’re just preparing like we do every week,” he said. “Hopefully preparing to win and keep going.”