John Tyler assured itself a playoff berth with four wins to open district play, but now the Lions want the whole path cleared.
John Tyler returns home for the first time in three weeks to take on Marshall at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium, looking to tend to unfinished business of getting another gold ball.
JT (4-3, 4-0 in 14-4A) holds the distinction as the lone unbeaten in district play, though three teams — Jacksonville, Kilgore, Whitehouse — trail the Lions by just one game. JT carries a 12-game district winning streak into the fold, dating to its days in Class 5A.
“We’re still going to harp on the small things, make sure they’re not taking anything for granted,” JT head coach Dereck Rush said. “We’ve still got three games left and a lot of work to accomplish.”
Marshall (2-5, 1-3) captured a much-needed win last week against Nacogdoches to keep its playoff hopes alive. The win snapped a four-game losing slide by the Mavericks, including a surprising 0-3 start in district play.
“I’m proud of our guys for finally getting over the hump,” first-year Marshall coach Alex Richters told the Marshall News Messenger. “John Tyler is on top, and it’s our turn to (try and) knock them off.”
Marshall arguably matches up to JT’s pool of athletes better than any other team in the district. Marshall maneuvered its way to more than 500 yards of offense in last week’s breakthrough 18-point victory over Nacogdoches.
“They definitely have some talent on the field, and some speed,” Rush said of Marshall, whom his team trailed by two touchdowns at halftime before rallying to win 45-17 a year ago on the road. “They’re probably the most athletic team we’ve played since Lufkin or Longview.”
JT continued its mastery over 4A counterparts, whom it has outscored 214-51 in four games. The Lions fielded their healthiest team since the season opener in last week’s 28-point romp over Whitehouse. The Lions lined up in the spread as usual, but concentrated on the run game, which piled up a season-high 355 yards.
“Anytime you’re healthy it helps as far as depth is concerned,” Rush said. “We’ve still got the same philosophy, taking what the defense is giving us. If they get out the box and allow us to run it, we’ll run it.”
Marshall made a habit of visiting Rose Stadium after dropping to 4A in 2002. Marshall lost 59-0 to Highland Park in the 4A Division I championship game in 2005. Marshall returned to Tyler twice in two years to split a pair of playoff games, beating Texas High in bi-district and losing to McKinney Boyd by seven points in a bi-district game.
Marshall defeated Corsicana in a bi-district affair in 2009. Marshall last played JT in Tyler in 2000.
The Mavericks lost in bi-district last year, while the Lions lengthened their season into December a second straight year.
“The key is staying focused on Marshall,” Rush said. “Walking on the field and winning — that is not going to happen. Our kids understand we can be beat any given Friday or beat anybody else on any given Friday.”