John Tyler needs one more win to corner the school's fourth consecutive district championship.
The Lions look to their cornerbacks to come up big against Whitehouse with the 16-4A title on the line Friday at Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium.
The John Tyler secondary coverage ranks as a primary concern going against a 9-0 Whitehouse team.
The second-ranked Lions look to senior cornerbacks Darion Flowers (6-0, 180) and Traven Johnson (6-1, 190) and sophomore nickel back Isaac Warren (6-1, 180) to slow Whitehouse's high-octane passing attack averaging 334 yards passing per game.
The Lions expect to see twice as many passes as usual after getting thrown on 20 times on average the first nine games. JT intercepted one out of every 14 passes thrown.
"All the games we've played we hadn't gotten much action," said Johnson, who has 24 tackles and one interception on the season. "We want it. We're going to try to shut it all the way down."
The Lions tied a season-high with three interceptions last week. JT enters the game allowing teams only 118 yards passing. Opponents completed passes at a 42 percent rate against JT the first nine games, throwing nine touchdowns compared to 13 interceptions.
JT plans to get close and personal with the Whitehouse receivers.
"We game plan around what we need to do," said Flowers, who has been offered by Houston Baptist. "We need to be physical with them, throw them off their route a little."
Johnson, who relishes the one-on-one matchups, tops the Lions with seven pass deflections.
"Coach (Ricklan) Holmes preaches to be physical, finish your tackle and wrap up," said Johnson, who holds one college offer from Stephen F. Austin. "We're just a physical team this year."
Warren corralled his lone interception in a shutout win over Lindale. The shutout marked the second for JT, which has held three teams without an offensive touchdown, making it that much easier on the Lions' striking unit.
"We've got a good offense," said Warren, the younger brother of former JT girls' basketball standout Erika Warren, who went on to play for Midland and UTEP. "The defense we're getting to the point where we don't' want anybody to score at all."
Flowers, a 1,000-yard receiver last year, lends a helping hand to a much-improved defense. Flowers, DeQuante Woods (RB/LB) and Chris Mobley (DL) played primarily on offense last year before. Their added strength to the defense has helped JT allow an East Texas low 12.7 points per game among 5A/4A schools.
JT's success stopping the run, surrendering 136 yards rushing per game and only six TDs on the ground to date, aids the secondary.
"The difference between last year is we've learned to stop the run better," said Flowers, who picked off his first pass of the season against Nacogdoches last week. "We're swarming to the ball and communicating more. It starts with the front three or four. We have to get to the quarterback, no doubt about it. And we have to have good coverage deep down the field."
Flowers and Johnson are two of nine third-year varsity players for a seasoned Lions team on a 19-game district win streak. The senior class helped JT defeat Whitehouse 21-14 as sophomores and 42-14 as juniors. Johnson played in a secondary that intercepted four passes in the two contests and held Whitehouse to a 45 percent completion percentage.
"There's a lot of animosity, a lot of things going back and forth between Whitehouse and Tyler," said Flowers, who joined Johnson, Warren and other skill players for extra practice during the week. "This is a new rival because the district changed. We can't get caught up in what people say. We have to play like it's another game."
Unlike the other previous games, a prized trophy piece goes to the winner.
"A district championship is at stake, winning a gold ball," Johnson said before leaving a message.
JT's senior class faced a similar scenario as freshmen in the state's highest classification, knocking off unbeaten DeSoto (currently ranked No. 2 in Class 5A) to win a piece of the district crown. The Lions hope to drive the Wildcats in a similar corner by ruining their perfect season.
"They may be 9 and 0," Johnson said of Whitehouse, "but they (haven't) played Cujo."
LIONS' TALES: John Tyler will be the top seed in the Class 4A Division I playoffs and draw the No. 2 seed from District 15-4A. If the playoffs started today, JT would take on Waxahachie, which is tied for fourth with Mansfield Summit, a team they beat earlier in the season. Waxahachie (5-4, 3-3) clinches the Division I runner-up spot with a win over Division II-bound Ennis (8-1, 5-1) or a loss by Mansfield Summit (3-6, 3-3) to Lancaster (8-1, 5-1). Arlington Seguin (3-6, 2-4) still holds playoff hopes, needing a win over Red Oak (5-1) and losses by Summit and Waxahachie, to win out on a three-way tiebreaker, thereby putting them into the Division II bracket, bumping Lancaster to Division I and putting Red Oak against the Lions. Possible playoff sites for JT's first round matchup include Garland's Williams Stadium, Mesquite's Memorial Stadium and Rockwall's Wilkerson-Sanders Stadium.