By BRAD KEITH
(November 17, 2016) — Two young football teams will vie for an area championship, and two electrifying young quarterbacks will lead the way.
De Leon (9-2) and Valley View (6-5) face off in the area round of Region II-2A at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Kangaroo Stadium in Weatheford. De Leon is runner-up in 7-2A Division I and Valley View champ in 6-2A. They each dominated bi-district playoff opponents, De Leon beating Riesel, 48-21, and Valley View mopping up Chico, 68-20. The winner on Friday meets Bosqueville or Windthorst in the regional semifinals.
“They have a young football team. They had a great year last year and graduated quite a few seniors. They started off this year kind of slow, but then in district they started clicking and they won their district with some quality young kids stepping up and doing a good job,” said De Leon head coach David Yeager. “The quarterback is a sophomore and he can run and throw and is dangerous doing both. Then they have a freshman running back who is so good I think it’s a typo every time I look at their roster. On tape, he’s a big, quick kid who can skate, I mean he can really run. They also have a couple good senior skill kids, one who is another good running back.
“Overall, when I look at them and see them progress from game to game on tape, what I see is a dangerous football team that is getting more and more dangerous each week.”
Of course, the same could be said about De Leon, which went unbeaten against a pre-district schedule that didn’t really push the Bearcats, then dropped its first two 7-2A contests. They were routed by state power Crawford, but that was without sophomore quarterback Kevin Yeager, the son of the head coach, who came back to have a solid outing when De Leon dropped a 34-32 thriller at Hico.
Opening district with two losses put the Bearcats behind the eight-ball, but they overmatched Hamilton, Valley Mills and San Saba, then surprised Goldthwaite by erasing a 20-0 first half deficit and winning on the final play, 38-35, when a 33-yard field goal by Daniel Sanchez split the uprights. Sanchez also caught three touchdown passes and returned an interception 66 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the first half. He had another big outing in the bi-district win over Riesel last Friday in Alvarado.
“We can’t control our opponent but we can control us. We can always give great effort and play physical, and we have to start by being sure we do those things every time we step on the field,” said Coach Yeager. “We can never be stagnant. Our mantra is to get better every day, and as long as we do that and are better this Friday then we were last Friday, that’s all you can really ask for.”
The De Leon offense has scored at least 38 points in each of its last five games and at least 32 points in eight of nine games that were completed. The Bearcats faced Santo without Kevin Yeager at quarterback and won 7-0 in a game shortened by lightning.
“We have a young team as well, so we’re getting better and more dangerous every week that we keep practicing and playing,” said Yeager. “Our offense is getting more and more efficient, and there are a lot of factors to that. Our offensive line is young and getting better each week, which is the key. I don’t care what offense you run, you’re only as good as the guys in the trenches. Our receivers are running good routes and catching the football and our backs run hard and keep us ahead of the chains.”
And, of course, it helps to have Kevin Yeager at quarterback.
“We have us a good trigger guy in Kevin. When the wheels fall off you have to have a guy back there who handles the pressure and makes plays for you football team,” Yeager explained. “We’re fortunate to have that in a young kid who we believe is only going to get better.”
De Leon last won an area-round contest in 2013, beating Lindsay, 7-0, at the same Kangaroo Stadium. The last area title the Bearcats celebrated before that was back in 1990, the last time they reached the state final under legendary retired coach Grady West.
“We didn’t tackle real well last week, so we have to tackle better in open space, and we have to do a better job in the kicking game,” said Yeager, referring to the opening kickoff on which Riesel ran a reverse and scored a touchdown, as well as another long kickoff later in the night. “And we have to win the turnover battle. Most often at this time of year, the team that wins the turnover battle wins the game. We’ve done that most of the year, and I believe that’s why we have nine wins.”