By BRAD KEITH
(November 28, 2017) — DeLeon won’t be getting faster between now and Friday, and Mart sure won’t be slowing down any for their long-anticipated Region II-2A Division I semifinal.
But head coach David Yeager doesn’t have time to worry about that and other things he can’t control. He’s telling his undefeated Bearcats to be prepared to control the things they can once the ball is teed up at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Wildcat Stadium in Whitney.
“I’m telling our kids, ‘Don’t focus on winning the game, focus on continuing to do the little things that have put us in this great position; the little things that have helped us prepare each day of practice the way we have all year, the way we take the field with such good, positive energy, the little things you’re responsible for every time the ball is snapped,'” Yeager says. ‘”If you do all those little things correctly, then we can enjoy it in the end.”
Of course, those little things must add up in a big way to slow a Panther team whose lone loss came in their opener to 3A Division I title contender Lexington. All they’ve done since that 40-38 overtime loss is average more than 60 points per game, including hanging 90 on poor Axtell.
Scoring against the Panthers appears to be a large, difficult task, as well. They surrender a shade under 10 points per game, with five of their 12 opponents being shut out completely.
“They’re very talented; they score in a hurry and they play great defense,” said Yeager. “It all starts with their quarterback. All their skill kids are capable of taking it to the house on you, but the quarterback especially is a gifted athlete who seems to always be running downhill. There have been plays where he makes guys miss without even slowing down.”
While Mart is about 65 percent run in the films Yeager and staff have broken down, it’s not as if the Panthers just snap it to Jace Terry and he does the rest. He does more than most QBs at the 2A level with 1,800 pass yards and 600 rush yards while accounting for 40 touchdowns, but he has a slew of weapons he involves, too.
The real freight train out of the Panther backfield is junior running back Tyrek Horne with 22 TDs and more than 1,700 yards at north of 15 yards per clip. On top of that, Terry has completed 30 passes apiece to senior brothers Jalon and Zamar Kirven, who join junior Shatydrick Bailey to give Mart three 400-plus yard receivers.
But change out the names, read it again and it sounds as if you’re describing De Leon.
If the chatter is about the top quarterbacks in 2A Division I, Coach Yeager’s son, Kevin Yeager, has to be in the mix. Like Terry, Kevin Yeager has been picked off only three times this year, and that’s while throwing for 38 touchdowns and almost 2,900 yards and rushing for more than 300 and five more scores.
If Kevin Yeager is De Leon’s answer to Terry, then perhaps Anthony Rangel is the appropriate response to Horne. Rangel has rushed for just shy of 2,100 yards and 25 touchdowns. He scored his first receiving touchdown to help De Leon rout Celeste in the area round last Friday, when had more than 200 yards of offense, Calvin Martin almost reached 150 yards receiving with 3 TDs and Kevin Yeager passed for five scores.
Orson Sylva had the remaining receiving TD, and receiver Chris Cox took a jet sweep for a rushing score on the first snap of the third quarter, his reward for returning the second half kickoff 80 yards to set up the score. Yeager, as any good coach does this time of year, has been quick to point out how such a play in the kicking game could make the difference Friday with such marginal difference between contenders.
The Bearcats will be ready for that important third of the contest, too, he says, and they’ll also try to keep defenses guessing where their offensive production will come from..
De Leon has amassed 5,880 yards of offense this fall (490 per game) and is so evenly balanced that 2,950 of those yards (245.8 per game) have been gained through the air and 2,930 on the ground (244.2). Just as formidable, in fact, as Terry, Horne and the Kirven brothers for Mart.
“This is the first time I’ve run into Mart as a coach so I don’t really know a whole lot about their history other than hearing of them being deep in the playoffs every year,” said Coach Yeager. “It’s one of those places, I guess, where tradition never graduates, like the old saying says. I’m sure they have kids whose dads or uncles were part of some great teams there.
“I can’t speak to their history other than that, but presently, I can tell you they are scary to watch on film,” Coach Yeager said. “Definitely the most talented team we have faced this season.”
Of course, somewhere in Mart Tuesday morning, just as Yeager was telling The Flash Today what he thought of the Panthers, Mart head coach Kevin Hoffman may well have been saying the same about the Bearcats.
De Leon gives up only nine points per game and slammed the brakes on a strong offense last week, holding Celeste to negative 23 rushing yards and just 209 total yards.
“We’ve got to play that way again, no doubt about it. Our defense is built to bounce plays outside then swarm to the ball,” Coach Yeager said. “Regardless how fast they are, we can make sure we’re the most hungry and aggressive team on the field.”
That’s the message he’ll share with his football team Friday, along with a reminder to just be themselves.
“Be hungry, be aggressive and just be you. You’ve done a great job taking care of all the little things throughout this process. Trust in the system and continue doing those things.
“They’re the Mart Panthers, and there isn’t anything we can do abut that. But you know what, we’re not bad ourselves, so let’s go out there and be the De Leon Bearcats.”