By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (December 2, 2016) — The De Leon Bearcats are about to load the bus for the approximate one-hour drive to Glen Rose, site of their first state quarterfinal appearance since 1990.
But before they go, sophomore quarterback and safety Kevin Yeager and his teammates have one order of business to tend to – they have to load up their home field to take with them.
“As a team we go get grass from our home field that represents all the blood, sweat and tears we have put into this, and we take it with us on the road and when we get to the stadium we find a grassy area and we sprinkle it there,” explained Yeager. “It’s like we’re making it our home field for the night.”
The Bearcats will put their blood, sweat and tears on the line again at 7:30 p.m. Friday against Crawford, a team they lost to, 45-7, on September 23.
As has been widely publicized, Kevin Yeager did not play in that game. That alone mens the Bearcat team Crawford will face Friday evening will be a much different bunch than the Pirates nine weeks ago.
They will have to deal with Yeager’s ability to distribute the ball in the spread offense with wisdom beyond his years. The son of the head coach will also be in the back of the defense as a safety. He did both well enough against Windthorst in the regional semifinals last week to finish with 207 yards and three touchdowns through the air, 95 yards on the ground, and two interceptions of Windthorst passes near the end of each half.
“I just have to take it one play at a time and focus on what’s right in front of me,” said Yeager of pulling double duty. “I don’t have time to really think about it all, I just try to make the next play and help our team win.
While it’s on offense that Yeager has made the most headlines and has the highest ceiling, even he says it’s been defense that has led the Bearcats to 11 wins, also for the first time since 1990, including seven straight.
“What gives us the most confidence is the way our defense has played in the last four games of district and the playoffs,” says Yeager of a Bearcat defense that has not surrendered 20 points to a playoff opponent; Riesel scored 21, a total aided by a kickoff return for a touchdown. “Even against Crawford, we held them to zero in the first quarter and 14 in the first half.”
The Bearcat defense has surrendered 30 points just three times this season, one of those without their star safety. On the flip side, with Yeager scrambling or keeping the ball on zone-read plays, handing or pitching it to Chris Cox and others and throwing it downfield to the likes of the explosive Daniel Sanchez and Orson Sylva as well as big possession receiver Cooper Dyson, the Bearcat offense has topped 30 points in eight straight games, including eclipsing 40 four times and twice exceeding 50.
Yeager knows Crawford will be confident, too.
“Defense-wise, they are really physical, and since we played them we haven’t seen another team that really matches us as far as athletic ability,” he said. “It’s going to come down to who has the most heart, who wants it more.
“They don’t make many mistakes on defense, so when they do make one, we have to be ready to take advantage,” he added. “Other than that, we just have to take what they give us and make the most of it.”
One thing’s for sure, with playoff euphoria overtaking De Leon, the Bearcat faithful will be out in full force for the first quarterfinal in almost three decades. They packed the the visiting bleachers at Jacksboro and should fill out the home side of Tiger Stadium.
Yeager, who says he’s dreamed since he was a kid of playing at the “next level,” whether that be NCAA Division I or II following high school, is already getting a taste of big games, and already shows a strong knack for winning them.
His teammates have, too, and it’s led De Leon to rarified air. The Bearcats are now being uttered in the same sentences as the Crawfords and even the Refugios of the 2A Division I football world.
“Just being compared to those teams is something to feel good about, and we’re proud of it,” he said. “If we can succeed (Friday), we have a real chance to do something special.”
This season is already special. In part because De Leon has a special leader, even if he is just a sophomore.
“I have a great team around me. We started the year as a senior heavy team, but as it’s gone on we have sophomores all over the place who are stepping up and making plays,” Yeager said. “It’s kind of a special blend. We have good senior leaders, but our program has developed to where were are deep in all the (grade) levels.”
Getting to the quarterfinals means De Leon football has “arrived,” as they say.
Arrived with all their blood, sweat and tears in tow, and a young quarterback and safety who just may be the missing piece to see the Bearcats through.