FORNEY - John Tyler coach Ricklan Holmes is well versed in Twitter and hashtags. Last year he put a favorite hashtag of his (NQND) on the back of the playoff jerseys for the Cujo motto Never Quit, Never Die.
This year he's got another hashtag for the Lions.
We're All We Got.
When John Tyler was 0-3, all the Lions players and coaches had were each other. Now that JT is on an eight-game winning streak, the Lions are still relying on each other.
"To start out the way we did and be in the position that we're in right now, it has everything to do with these kids, this coaching staff," Holmes said. "They're not giving up on us like everyone else tried to."
John Tyler will take that unified approach into perhaps its toughest game of the season Saturday when Cujo takes on undefeated and seventh-ranked Mansfield Lake Ridge in the Class 5A Division I area playoffs at 2 p.m. from Forney's City Bank Stadium.
The Lions (8-3) haven't lost since falling to Robert E. Lee in their non-district finale on Sept. 11. The Eagles (11-0) haven't lost since McKinney North knocked them out of the playoffs 56-42 in last year's Class 5A Division I regional playoffs.
John Tyler defeated North 64-40 in the next round but graduated 33 seniors. Lake Ridge returned 17 starters and has been unstoppable since.
This year the Eagles are outscoring opponents by an average margin of 51-21, leaving little margin for error for the Lions.
"I think they're the best team we're going to face thus far," Holmes said. "They're a combination of the talent of Lufkin but they're tough like Longview. Their offense is just as explosive as the Robert E. Lee offense but their defense is consistent and tough like Lindale.
"This team is a combination of pretty much all the good teams we've faced this year."
Lake Ridge is led by a pair of NCAA Division I commits on offense who both belong on the all-name team. Under center is Jett Duffey, a dual-threat quarterback who has committed to Texas Tech. Duke Carter, who has given his word to Louisiana-Monroe, lines up beside him at running back.
Duffey has thrown for 1,692 yards with 20 touchdowns and three interceptions while running for 1,019 yards and 12 more scores. Carter has racked up 1,234 yards rushing with 18 touchdowns.
All told, the Eagles average 304.8 yards per game on the ground. The Lions struggled against the run early in the season (848 combined against Longview and Lee), but have been stingy lately, allowing 137.0 yards rushing per game the last two outings.
"We gotta stop the run against them," Holmes said. "They know they can run the ball. They've got big offensive linemen and the big, great back they've got - he's pretty good."
Lake Ridge has talent on defense too. Senior defensive back Arnold Azunna, an Iowa State commit, leads the team with three interceptions while junior linebacker Loren Mondy has committed to Arizona State. Senior linebacker Jack Lechman leads the Eagles with 100 tackles.
John Tyler is 1-1 all-time against Mansfield schools. The Lions beat Summit 44-27 in the area playoffs last year but lost to Legacy 35-14 in the 2013 bi-district playoffs.
That loss to Legacy came on a windy afternoon at City Bank Stadium, where the Lions will be hoping for a better performance on Saturday.
"We've got to redeem ourselves in Forney," Holmes said. "Last time in Forney we got our butts handed to us by Mansfield (Legacy), which is another Mansfield school. I look at this as a time to redeem ourselves."
Lake Ridge is in the playoffs for the second time in school history, having started its varsity football program in 2012. The Eagles went 0-10 that first year, 2-8 in 2013 and 8-5 last year. Lake Ridge has yet to lose this year and has already more than doubled the program's win total in this season alone.
"We're not the other teams they beat," JT junior safety Da'Quaylon Kennedy said. "We're not going to be a team that they beat."
Perhaps for the first time since their winning streak began, the Lions will be underdogs against the Eagles, who last year knocked Longview out of the playoffs in the area round.
"I think every week we're an underdog," Holmes said. "I don't think nobody shows us the respect we've earned over the last several weeks. I think everyone has been waiting on us to lose.
"After we started winning I think everyone thought it was a fluke."
A win Saturday will take away any doubt that Cujo is a state title contender.
Mansfield Lake Ridge Eagles vs. John Tyler Lions
When: 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: City Bank Stadium, Forney
Radio: ESPN East Texas 92.1-FM, Tyler
Records: Lake Ridge - 11-0; John Tyler - 8-3
Last Week's Results: Lake Ridge 63, Dallas Samuell 12; John Tyler 48, Texas High 21
2014 Result: Did not play
All-Time Series: First meeting.
Players to Watch: Lake Ridge - QB Jett Duffey (6-1, 175, Sr.), RB Duke Carter (5-8, 180, Sr.), MLB Jack Lechman (6-1, 221, Sr.). John Tyler - DL/OL Braylon Jones (6-4, 290, Sr.), QB Bryson Smith (6-0, 160, Jr.), S Da'Quaylon Kennedy (5-10, 148, Jr.).
Quick Slant: Mansfield Lake Ridge has steamrolled opponents this year, with no team coming within 20 points of the Eagles. Lake Ridge's closest game this year was a 55-35 win to give Mansfield Summit its only regular-season loss. The Eagles have scored at least 47 points in every game save one, a 30-13 victory over a Keller Fossil Ridge team that had whipped Robert E. Lee 59-35 the week before. But few teams in the state are playing as well as John Tyler right now, which has its own eight-game winning streak.
Quotable: "I think that the winner out of this game is going to win state. That's what I think, because Lake Ridge is good, and we're good too, and it's going to be two good teams facing each other come Saturday." - JT coach Ricklan Holmes.
Stadium Address: City Bank Stadium (8,985) - 9067 FM 741, Forney.
Next Up: Winner vs. Wylie East-Mesquite Poteet winner, TBD, Class 5A Division I Regional playoffs.