Never count out a John Tyler football team until the final buzzer. Not with the "Cujo" creed to "never quit, never die" willed into the Lions' psyche as soon as they hit the football field at the tradition-rich program.
Thanks to that kind of fight-to-the-end attitude, JT's chance to win the school's fourth state championship remains alive and well, with the Lions now the highest-ranked school left among the eight quarterfinalists in Class 4A Division I.
"That's been instilled in us since two-a-days: always have heart, never quit, never die," JT senior receiver/cornerback Darion Flowers said after JT's latest playoff win.
"That's what "Cujo" stands for."
Down by 11 points in the first half, and time not on its side, JT turned the tide with a dominant second-half effort to defeat Frisco 45-28 in Friday's regional contest at Allen's luxuriant Eagle Stadium.
The Lions showed similar resolve in the regular season finale, overcoming a 24-point hole in a 45-38 win over Whitehouse. Whereas JT passed the Whitehouse test, literally, surviving 57 pass attempts and a season-high 445 passing yards allowed, the Lions overcame their most physical challenge in yielding 285 rushing yards to Frisco's run-oriented system.
"It shows they're ready to try and win a state championship," first-year JT head coach Ricklan Holmes said of the Lions' resolve. "It was a tough win against a well-coached team. That's what we expected from them. Now we know what we need to do to take care of a team like this."
Time and Again
Frisco attempted to control the clock, but once behind its ball-control, Wing-T attack proved to lack the needed punch.
The Lions possessed the ball only 3:32 in the first half, with the Raccoons running 41 plays compared to their 14. JT dictated tempo once the Lions grabbed the lead, that coming on the opening drive of the first half as the Lions never trailed the final 22 minutes.
In the end, JT's quick-strike attack bested Frisco's methodical approach. JT scored on seven of 10 drives. The six TD drives lasted a total of three minutes and 13 seconds.
The JT offense scored on seven of 10 drives. Another JT possession reached the Frisco 5-yard line. The Lions averaged 8.5 yards per play and picked up 16 first downs on just 44 total snaps.
"They did what they've been doing all year," Holmes said of a balanced offense averaging 41.8 points per game, with 35 rushing and 36 passing TDs. "They were driving the ball down the field, putting points on the board and making sure we put the game under control like we did late."
The JT defense, pushed around most of the first half, rebounded to force three key turnovers. Flowers recovered a fumble to thwart Frisco's potential go-ahead drive late and just over four minutes afterward intercepted a pass.
Flowers paced JT with seven catches for 89 yards, including a 6-yard TD reception to slice Frisco's lead to 21-17 and reverse the momentum shortly before halftime. The scoring drive chewed up a mere 31 seconds, one of three under a minute for the Lions.
"We just had to get the ball back and score," Flowers said. "We didn't have any time for letdowns."
The Lions relished their night at arguably the Mecca of high school football stadiums, a state-of-the-art venue worth nearly $60-miliion. JT defensive end Tyus Bowser, who racked up his 20th sack of the season, returned to the field afterward to capture video footage.
In three weeks, JT hopes to capture the biggest stage of them all, at the place known as "Jerry's World." For now, JT can settle for getting their highlights from Friday night's win shown at Cowboys Stadium in front of a nationwide audience tonight when Dallas takes on Philadelphia.
"We're just taking it game-by-game," Flowers said. "But we all know that's the ultimate goal."
LIONS' TALES: A crew from NBC filmed the John Tyler-Frisco regional game Friday. Highlights from JT's win will be featured on the NFL's Sunday night game between Dallas and Philadelphia at Cowboys Stadium. The game is scheduled for a 7:20 p.m. start at Cowboys Stadium. …JT will be the home team and wear its white jerseys for the state quarterfinals matchup with Frisco Centennial.
John Tyler Rewind
Final score: John Tyler 45, Frisco 28.
Turning point: Terry Ausborne's seventh interception of the season late in the half, coming with JT trailing 21-10, allowed the Lions to pull within four points late in the first half. The JT defense dropped Frisco for two negative gains before going into halftime, and returned form the break to score on its first drive and never trail again.
The game was over when: JT forced an incompletion on fourth-and-5 with Frisco on a potential go-ahead drive near the three-minute mark. DeQuante Woods scored twice on JT's next five plays to seal the deal.
Key stats: JT's six touchdown drives consumed a total of 22 plays and averaged 32 seconds before the Lions found the end zone.
Warning signs: JT continues to play with fire, digging double-digit first-half deficits in two of the past four games.
Positive signs: No deficit appears too much for JT, which rallied from a 24-point hole against Whitehouse, and ended up one-yard short of erasing a 19-point deficit in its lone loss to Lancaster.
What this win means: JT becomes the highest-ranked team left in the playoffs after Nederland defeated top-ranked Pearland Dawson 22-19.
Fast forward: JT (12-1) meets Frisco Centennial (12-1), coming a dominating 40-14 win over Red Oak, for the right to advance to the state semifinals. Centennial defeated Frisco 38-24 in district action. Centennial is outscoring teams by an average margin of 21.5 points per game thanks to an offense featuring a 2,000-yard passer, four backs with more than 300 yards rushing, and a defense allowing 15.9 points.