WHITEHOUSE — Two teams back on track and in the District 14-4A driver’s seat compete for pole position in the football circle.
John Tyler and Whitehouse, the last unbeatens left in district play after combining to lose all six non-district tune-ups, throw down in a showdown pitting two of the area’s best passing attacks at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Wildcat Stadium.
The matchup between JT (3-3, 3-0) and Whitehouse (3-3, 3-0) garners top billing locally as the ETFinalScore.com Game of the Week, and regionally as the Fox Sports Southwest High School Friday marquee game.
The visiting sideline both downplayed and played up the game, calling it another in a long line of key contests.
“Every game from here on out is a big game,” JT head coach Dereck Rush said. “We’ll take it one game at a time. Hopefully our kids are ready to step up to the plate and play well.”
After going 7-0 in district last year, JT geared up for a run a third straight district title with three wins by 38 points or more to open district. The current stretch trails a forgetful non-district when the Lions lost three second-half leads to a trio of 5A schools to start 0-3.
“We’re a work-in-progress as far as trying to reach our goals,” said Rush, whose program has won 11 consecutive district games and 15 of its last 16. “We’re getting better each week as far as limiting mistakes on offense and defense. We’re taking strides in the right direction.”
While JT expected to be leading the pack, Whitehouse feels good to be back in a similar spot. Whitehouse finished second behind JT in district last year, losing by seven points to the Lions in a memorable affair played in Tyler.
“We’re glad we’re in this position,” Whitehouse coach Randy McFarlin said. “My thought was we had to uphold our end of the bargain to get here. We both followed the same path. Every district game is huge. It seems like we’re all about equal (but) I think John Tyler is a little bit ahead of the rest.”
Whitehouse allowed an average of 61 points per game in non-district when it started 0-3, numbers down to a respectable 24 points the last three contests.
“Our defense has gotten a little experienced and we’ve moved kids around,” McFarlin said. “We were so young coming in and we had no varsity lettermen back on defense. We’re still not great on defense, but we’re at least slowing them down.”
Whitehouse wears teams down with its bread-and-butter passing game, one responsible for 2,250 yards already, or 82 percent of the team’s total offense.
“That’s what we do,” McFarlin said. “We work at it with our quarterbacks throwing it early from seventh grade.”
Similar to Whitehouse, JT’s defense improved and wins followed. The Lions pitched a second-half shutout last week, despite giving up 200 or more yards rushing for the fifth time in six games.
“No matter how many rushing or passing yards they have, if we can hold them (to 17 points or below like the last three weeks) we’re doing a good job defensively.” Rush said. “Our main goal is if we can keep them out of the end zone.”
McFarlin admits to feeling less heat than his counterpart on the opposing sideline. Rush and the Lions sport a 13-1 record inside its own classification since dropping to 4A a year ago.
“I think all the pressure’s on John Tyler because they’re supposed to win,” McFarlin said. “If we play close, people will say we played great. If we lose they’ll say, ‘We thought you would.’”