Crusaders eyeing state finals

 

BY TRAVIS YOESTING

CORSICANA — For many years Bishop Gorman was the preeminent private school football program in East Texas. Until the 2000s, it was also the only one in Tyler.

Since the advent of the football programs at All Saints, Grace Community and Bullard Brook Hill, Gorman has struggled to make an impact at the state level, last winning a state championship in 1995.

The Crusaders hope to change that this year and they can take a large step toward that with a win today against another historical private school power.

Gorman takes on district rival Dallas Christian in the TAPPS Division II state semifinals at 7 p.m. today from Tiger Stadium, playing for the right to reach the state title game that will be played one week later in the same location.

“We have wanted to, for the last three years now, establish ourselves as a team that’s going to be a force to be reckoned with and also do things right off the field,” third-year TKG coach Coby Gipson said. “We feel like we’ve taken some steps in that area.”

The Crusaders, at 10-2, can appreciate a little symmetry in their matchup with the Chargers, also 10-2.

Gorman was undefeated at 6-0 earlier in the year before playing Brook Hill and DC back to back, losing both. TKG now gets those same two opponents, again in consecutive weeks.

Saturday in the state quarterfinals the Crusaders got their second crack at the Guard, who had taken the claim to the top TAPPS team in East Texas with a state title in 2011 in Division III and a Division II district title this year.

Gorman took full advantage of their rare second chance, edging Brook Hill 28-21 to advance to the state semifinals for the first time since 2010.

Back then, the Crusaders were in Division III. Now in Division II, where TKG had never won a playoff game before this year, Gipson and his team have a chance to avenge their only other loss.

“We’re hoping we can reconcile our two losses, that’d be awesome,” Gorman senior Daniel McKnight said.

Not that it will be easy. Dallas Christian is in its third straight semifinal, having lost the previous two to eventual state champ Midland Christian. The Chargers went a combined 24-2 during those years and the school has won eight state championships, most recently in 2008.

This year’s Dallas Christian is powered by standout senior Tylor Cook, who has run for 1,504 yards and 17 touchdowns.

When Cook and company visited Tyler on Oct. 24, the Chargers came out with a 24-21 victory in overtime with Cook running for 254 of DC’s 384 rushing yards.

“I remember their running back is a very special kid and they put him at quarterback against us,” Gipson said. “He ran the ball really well that night and all credit to him. Their offensive line is really well coached.”

The Crusaders can counter with quarterback Michael Goodwin, who’s thrown for 3,200 yards and run for 1,091. Connor Hobbs (88-1,334, 10 TDs) and Judah Bell (49-1048-9) give the junior quarterback two stellar passing options.

Goodwin only had 217 total yards in the loss to Dallas Christian earlier in the year. In that defeat, Gorman fumbled the ball twice in the red zone, including in overtime.

While mistakes cost the Crusaders the first time around, they aren’t going in thinking they just need to play error free.

“I really don’t think it’s just fixing the mistakes — I think we can definitely be better,” TKG senior Josh Riegel said. “We didn’t play a bad game but we’re always going to try to play better. We’re not there to just fix the mistakes; we’re there to improve upon the good things we did.”

And with more to play for than in an October district meeting, expect both teams to be laying it all on the line.

“We definitely are going to come much harder than we did last time,” senior corner back Christian Watkins said. “We came hard last time but this time we had a lot to correct on and we’re going to get all that fixed and do a lot better than we did the last time, even though we did pretty well.”

Thanks to Mother Nature, Gorman will have two extra days of rest for this game. Dallas Christian’s 44-41 win over Houston Lutheran South wasn’t finished until Monday after storms postponed the game Saturday.

Knowing they were in and waiting for an opponent over the weekend, the Crusaders knew they wanted to see the Chargers for a second time so they could say they beat every team on their schedule.

“We were ready for whichever team won (Monday) — but every person in this locker room, if they had to pick, they would’ve picked to play DC,” Gipson said.

Added McKnight: “If everybody can just keep their heads and do their assignments, I really think we have the talent, the athletic ability and the heart to just go out there and win.”

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