Long before the season started, John Tyler reserved a weekend for late December in Arlington.

The Lions expected to be right here, right now, and not even an offseason coaching change or early season loss affected the Lions' path to Cowboys Stadium.

First-year head coach Ricklan Holmes breeds confidence, telling Tyler ISD board members to get your ring sizes ready moments after being announced as head coach back in May.

Even after JT suffered its lone loss in a hiccup to Lancaster that cost the Lions the top ranking, Holmes expressed his plans for the Lions, saying after the setback: "we still have 14 games left."

JT plays the 13th game since the loss in its second contest. That means JT still has unfinished business to back up Holmes' predictions.

Holmes appeared to have an easier job getting the Lions focused during the week, seeing as JT lost in the state semifinals last year. With 17 starters back from last year's team, JT remembers the way the season ended vividly, and wants to right the ship so to speak.

For all the talk of not looking ahead, the semifinal round poses the biggest challenge.

You spend all season trying to get to this point, playing for a title now one week away. But unless teams take care of the task at hand, they only get to watch the game as a spectator.

JT experienced the feeling last year, and the Lions' opponent in the state semifinals, Denton Guyer, felt it twice before it broke through with a championship appearance.

JT tries to follow suit today. The Lions expect a challenge, but then again expect to win.

JT's previous three seasons ended against schools with a mixture of physical offenses, and seasoned coaching staffs, something Guyer brings to the table with its offensive line. Guyer head coach John Walsh turned the school into an elite team in the program's third year, and the Wildcats have reached the round of four in four of the last five seasons.

Everything in the JT fieldhouse indicates a team prepared to play not one, but two more games. A picture of Cowboys Stadium dots the same fieldhouse, along with the date of the state championship game. Nearby, a picture of the 1994 state champion hangs as a reminder of what is needed to be done to leave a permanent mark: win in week 16.

The Lions can't win a state championship this week. But with a special group of playmakers on offense, a defense apt for game-changing turnovers, the Lions look very capable of being in Jerry's World next week.

Not as spectators, but performers.

No need to set up a neutral site for next week. A win and JT is in, right where it planned to be.


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