WHITEHOUSE — On a crisp autumn evening in front of a packed stadium, trophies are earned on nights such as this.
While the anticipated showdown between No. 3 Whitehouse and John Tyler won’t have any bearing on postseason positioning, there’s the matter of a certain gold ball, the one that goes to the winner of District 16-4A.
The Lions seek to protect it at all costs; the Wildcats are eager to pry it away from a local rival they’ve never beaten.
“This has nothing to do with seeding in the playoffs anymore, it’s all about protecting the gold ball and making sure it comes back to John Tyler instead of going to Whitehouse,” JT coach Ricklan Holmes said.
Whitehouse (9-0, 4-0) hosts John Tyler (7-2, 4-0) at 7:30 p.m. today from what is expected to be a sold-out Wildcat Stadium for the regular-season finale.
“From here on out, what you have are two teams that are trying to chase the same golden football,” Whitehouse coach Adam Cook said Wednesday. “You’ve got to come in and practice every day this week like you want that gold ball.”
The Lions (Division I) and Wildcats (Division II) have already clinched the top seeds in their respective divisions and have playoff pairings set. The Lions will play either Mansfield Summit (4-5) or Lancaster (4-5) on Saturday, Nov. 16, in Forney. The Wildcats will play Arlington Seguin (6-3) next Friday in Mesquite.
Nonetheless, expect both teams to go all out in search of the district title, which would be JT’s fifth in as many years as the Lions have won 23 straight league games.
“It’s all about tradition, it’s all about keeping that district streak alive,” Holmes said. “That’s what we’re known for; we’re known for winning district championships and we’re known for making deep playoff runs and winning state championships. You’ve got to keep that alive.”
The Lions have beaten the Wildcats three times during the streak, the school’s only three meetings all time.
“I can’t consider it a rivalry yet because they’ve never beat us,” Holmes said. “A rivalry is a back-and-forth struggle between two opponents.”
The Lions, then ranked No. 2, pulled off a dramatic comeback in last year’s meeting, surviving despite finding themselves down 24-0 in the second quarter. The victory helped spark a run to the state semifinals.
This year it’s Whitehouse that comes in with a lofty ranking and designs on a deep playoff run. The senior-laden Wildcats have dominated opponents this season, outscoring them by 35 points per game, including 39.5 per game in district.
“They do realize that we are playing John Tyler,” Cook said. “Not that these boys are afraid of them by any means.”
Holmes said he sees Whitehouse as the favorite.
“We’ve just got to make sure we stay focused, make sure we don’t get caught in the hype and understand that nobody really wants us to win,” the second-year coach said. “We’re the underdog. You’ve got to play with a chip on your shoulder.”
Senior quarterback Patrick Mahomes commands a dynamic Whitehouse offense that is averaging 578.3 yards per game. Mahomes has thrown for 3,206 yards with 36 touchdowns to three interceptions while adding 513 yards and eight more scores rushing.
The Texas Tech commit has plenty of weapons at his disposal, led by Jake Parker (50 catches, 1,000 yards), Jaylon Dews (38-491) and Ryan Cheatham (37-418), although the Wildcats will miss Coleman Patterson (41-719), who was lost to a season-ending injury last week.
“He’s a gunslinger,” Holmes said of Mahomes. “He extends a lot of plays with his feet; that’s because he’s very mobile and he’s a pretty smart kid. He knows whether he needs to tuck it or whether he needs to scramble for a little bit and let some things open up.”
Mahomes will face a stout secondary that lets few teams throw the ball efficiently. Quarterbacks facing the Lions have completed 45 percent of their passes for an average of 118 yards per game, or about a third of Mahomes’ 355.6 average.
“Their secondary is good; probably will be the best secondary we will see,” Cook said. “They are going to be fast. They are probably going to be the fastest defense we’ve seen.”
John Tyler has faced Division I quarterbacks and receivers before. Rice-bound QB Destri White of Mesquite Horn went 5 for 14 for 131 yards while Lufkin’s receiver duo of Jamal Jeffery (Texas A&M) and Keke Coutee (Texas) was held to five catches. Jacksonville’s Carter McCown had the most success against JT’s secondary, throwing for 264 yards on 23 of 43 passing.
Last year the Lions harassed Mahomes with eight sacks, and defensive ends Jassavia Reese and Darius Amie, along with standout sophomore Braylon Jones at tackle, will look to keep Mahomes on his toes. Cook thinks Mahomes, who threw for 428 yards in that game, could find success running the ball.
“Pat has had some big runs,” Cook said. “I think that’s going to be huge. I think he’s going to run the ball more than last year against John Tyler.”
John Tyler quarterback Geovari McCollister has put up strong numbers himself. The junior has thrown for 2,220 yards with 18 touchdowns and five interceptions, adding 736 yards and six TDs rushing.
McCollister has completed passes at a higher rate than Mahomes, 67 percent to 62 percent, and averages slightly more yards per attempt, 10.3 to 9.7.
“With the way Geo is playing right now, it’s going to be hard for them to take care of the five skill players,” Holmes said.
Playmaker Nick Cain can do it all for the Lions with 950 yards from scrimmage, most coming on 41 receptions. Sophomore Duntavion Gross has become one of McCollister’s favorite targets, hauling in 42 passes for 496 yards. Junior Jeremy Wilson is averaging 14.2 yards per touch, getting it done both rushing and receiving.
Whitehouse’s defense is allowing 21 points per game, nearly a three-point improvement from this point last year.
“They swarm to the ball,” Holmes said. “I think the athletic ability helps them a lot and helps them make a lot of plays.”
The Wildcats are 9-0 for the second straight year and haven’t lost at home since 2011. The Lions are coming off one of their best halves of the year, dominating Nacogdoches after halftime in a 37-14 victory, outgaining the Dragons 213-34 in the process.
“They are playing really well right now,” Cook said. “We know we have a big test Friday night.”
NOTES: The JT-Whitehouse game will not be broadcast on delay as previously reported. KCEB/Me-TV will instead broadcast Robert E. Lee’s game against Rockwall-Heath. … As of Thursday evening, 200 adult tickets and 150 student tickets remained on the Tyler side of sales. Tickets will be sold today at the TISD athletic office from 8 a.m.-1 p.m., or until they sell out. … ESPN East Texas 92.1-FM will air the game on the radio this week while Robert E. Lee’s game is on KTBB 600-AM. … In other District 16-4A games this week, Lindale plays at Nacogdoches for third place and Corsicana plays at Jacksonville for fifth place. The Eagles will go to Division II while the Dragons compete in Division I in the playoffs, both as the No. 2 seeds. Lindale will play Ennis today at Hanby Stadium in Mesquite.
— Staff writer Shane Stark contributed to this story.
John Tyler Lions at Whitehouse Wildcats
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Wildcat Stadium, Whitehouse
Radio: ESPN East Texas 92.1-FM, Tyler; JAMZ 107.3-FM
Records: John Tyler — 7-2 (4-0 District 16-4A); Whitehouse — 9-0 (4-0)
Last Week’s Results: John Tyler 37, Nacogdoches 14; Whitehouse 45, Corsicana 14
2012 Result: John Tyler 45, Whitehouse 38.
All-Time Series: John Tyler leads 3-0.
Players to Watch:John Tyler — S Terry Ausborne (5-11, 175, Sr.), CB Isaac Warren (6-1, 188, Jr.), QB Geovari McCollister (6-2, 200, Jr.). Whitehouse — QB Patrick Mahomes (6-3, 200, Sr.), WR Jake Parker (6-1, 160, Sr.), LB Reggie Long (5-11, 205).
Quick Slant: Two of East Texas’ best teams face off in a battle for the District 16-4A crown. Both teams sport strong offenses: Whitehouse averages 56.0 points and 578.3 yards per game; John Tyler averages 39.0 points and 439.2 yards per game. The Wildcats have outscored league opponents by 39.5 points per game compared to 24.3 for the Lions.
Notable: John Tyler and Whitehouse, schools located 15 miles apart, never played until 2010, when the Lions prevailed 21-14. The next year JT won 42-14 before last year’s nail-biter, won 45-38 by the Lions. Whitehouse has lost four district games in the last three years, three coming to JT, the other a 64-26 setback to Kilgore in 2011.
Quotable: “I respect them as a team. I know that they do a lot of good things on offense with that quarterback; he’s a phenomenal athlete. They have some great receivers to throw it to, especially Jake Parker. He’s good. I know he’s good.” — JT coach Ricklan Holmes.
Stadium Address:Wildcat Stadium (7,000) — 106 Wildcat Dr., Whitehouse.
Next Up: John Tyler vs. Mansfield Summit or Lancaster, 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16, City Bank Stadium, Forney. Whitehouse vs. Arlington Seguin, 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15, Memorial Stadium, Mesquite.