By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (August 25, 2016) — Stephenville and Cleburne are renewing an old high school football rivalry Friday when they tangle for the first time since 2007.
Stephenville won 11 straight meetings against Cleburne from 1989 to 2007, last losing in this matchup in 1988.
But as he enters his second season as head coach at Stephenville, Greg Winder warns this Cleburne team is different.
The head coach is Jeff Merket, a former assistant to Art Briles at Stephenville back in the 1990s. It’s the first time he’s faced Stephenville as a head coach, and he enters 2016 armed with experience and athleticism.
“They’re good, they have great talent and a lot of speed on both sides of the ball,” said Winder. “They like to create space and put the ball in the hands of guys who can really run and make big plays, and that’s what we have to contain.”
Headlining the return of nine offensive and eight defensive starters for Merket’s Cleburne team are speedsters Tre’Von Bradley at quarterback and Isaiah Romero at running back. Bradley, says Texas Football Magazine, runs a 4.3 in the 40, while Romero isn’t exactly slow at 4.5.
“We have to play down the line of scrimmage and not get too deep in the backfield and create lanes for those guys to run through, and we have to be good tacklers and take great pursuit angles,” Winder said. “We sure can’t let them get behind us, because if they do we aren’t going to catch them.”
Bradley is a stronger runner than passer, accounting for almost half of his almost 2,800 total yards last year with his legs rather than his arm. Romero accounted for about 1,200 yards of total offense last season, and they are following an offensive line that has four starters returning including a three-year leader in Chris Robles.
When Bradley does go through the air, he will usually be looking for Jordan Gann, who had 665 yards and five touchdowns last season.
“With all those guys, they really want to give them the ball in space,” Winder said. “They spread the field offensively, but they spread it to run, not necessarily to pass it a lot. They like to run the ball and use quick passes and screens to give their athletes the ball in space.”
When Stephenville has the ball, Cleburne will vary between a three-man and four-man defensive line, and Winder expects to see primarily man defense behind them.
“They have good athletes on defense, too, so they want to man up and rely on their athleticism to win those match ups,” said Winder.
Stephenville has an offense that typically doesn’t draw a lot of man coverage, and Winder hopes that is a benefit Friday night.
“Man coverage is good for us in our offense, as long as we are winning the one-on-one match ups,” he said. “We have to take advantage of the match ups we think are in our favor and exploit those.”
Easton Jones brings a year of starting experience to the Jacket offense, but the junior quarterback is surrounded primarily by varsity newcomers. Cameron Frazier gives Jones one experienced target, and junior receivers Blake Aragon, Mason Holstein and Holden Haile have all had an impressive summer of 7-on-7 followed by highlights in scrimmages against White Settlement Brewer and Granbury.
Sophomore Krece Nowak adds another dependable target – and deep threat – out of the backfield and is a shifty, scatty type runner.
“We have some players they have to contain, too,” Winder said. “We just have to run our stuff effectively and we should be able to put some points on the board.”
Winder points to the kicking game and turnovers as big keys to the game.
“There are always a lot of questions in the kicking game when you go out there and cover kicks andp nuts at full speed for the first time on a Friday night, and when you’re trying to execute your return game, too,” he said. “We can’t afford to have any breakdowns in the kicking game, especially against a team with a lot of speed.”
And, of course, turnovers.
“That’s the biggest key, right there. We can’t turn the ball over and give them extra opportunities,” he said. “And it would be nice if we could create a couple extra opportunities for ourselves.”
Kickoff at at the historic, rock-faced Yellowjacket Stadium in Cleburne is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday.