GARLAND — John Tyler worked the last two months positioning not for an unexpected layoff, but for another long playoff run.
The journey to Cowboys Stadium starts today for John Tyler, which opens the Class 4A Division I state football playoffs against Waxahachie.
The tradition-rich schools both won state titles in the 1990s: JT in Class 5A Division II (1994) and Waxahachie in Class 4A (1992).
The teams meet for the first time on the field. JT scrimmaged Waxahachie in 1994 before going 16-0. The 1994 team kicked off its championship run at Homer B. Johnson Stadium, the site of tonight's first round matchup.
The captain of JT's championship dreams, first-year head coach Ricklan Holmes, welcomes the high hopes with open arms. The second-ranked Lions sport a sparkling 44-9 record over the last four years, highlighted by a pair of trips to the state quarterfinals and a run last year to the state semifinals.
"That's the ultimate goal," said Holmes, who was a freshman at JT during the school's last championship season. "If that's not your goal as a football team, as a head coach, as a positional coach, you're in the wrong sport. That's our goal and we're going to stick to it all year."
JT (9-1) averaged 50.4 points in district play, thanks to the offensive talents of all-state senior quarterback Greg Ward (35 TDs) and all-state senior receiver Fred Ross (17 TDs). Waxahachie pitched two shutouts in district play, including a 16-0 win last week over an Ennis team that started with eight straight victories before losing to Lancaster, the team responsible for JT's lone loss.
Waxahachie (6-4) needed to defeat Ennis to assure a postseason berth. The Indians showed the ability to win with offense and defense during the season, scoring 77 in one victory and 64 in another, along with the three total shutouts.
"We played well and they had a playoff spot sewed up so they weren't playing for anything," said 13th-year Waxahachie head coach David Beam of last week's impressive win. "Those teams we played in district, Red Oak, Lancaster and Ennis are all high caliber."
The Indians received different looks in District 15-4A, where they finished fourth, from Lancaster's athleticism to Ennis' run-based attack. Waxahachie plays a ball-control style reminiscent of Kilgore.
Junior Treyvon Marsh, a 1,000-yard back, scored 17 TDs to lead the Indians during the regular season.
"Lancaster shows you what your deficiencies are in the speed part," said Ream, who led Waxahachie to a 13-1 record in 2009. "The other two line up and run at you. We see a little bit of everything in district."
JT rallied from a four-score deficit to wrap up the school's fourth consecutive district title with last week's 45-38 victory over Whitehouse. Other than last week, JT's defense played at a high level during the regular season, pitching two shutouts and holding another opponent minus an offensive touchdown.
"That game just showed how prepared we really are, to come from behind and fight all adversity," Holmes said of the rally from a 24-0 hole. "That just shows this is a different team than those teams before. We're going to keep fighting and we're not going to give up until we do whatever it takes to win the game."
While confident in his team's ability, Holmes guarded against looking too far ahead. JT last entered the playoffs ranked this high in 1995, when the top-ranked and unbeaten Lions lost in the area round to a Jersey Village team with four losses, ending a school-record 27-game win streak.
"You still take it one game at a time, but knowing what your goal is," Holmes said. "That goal is to make sure we get to that last game. To get to that game, we have to take care of the first game."
LIONS' TALES: Tickets to today's game can be purchased until 1 p.m. at the TISD athletic office (8-7 W. Glenwood). Advance tickets cost $3 for students and $6 for adults. All tickets at the gate cost $8. JT will be the visiting team. Following the regular season finale, several members of the JT team dyed their hair with blond streaks as a sign of unity. A large number of players on the 1994 squad shaved their heads in a similar gesture prior to the playoffs …The JT junior varsity wrapped up the district title with a 31-22 win last week over Whitehouse. The JT JV finished with a 9-1 overall record.
Probable Starting Lineups
JOHN TYLER — QB 1 Greg Ward (6-0, 170, Sr.), RB 4 DeQuante Woods (5-11, 185, Sr.), WR/A 22 Reggie Gipson (5-9, 175, Jr.), WR/Z 8 Fred Ross (6-2, 185, Sr.), WR/Y Darion Flowers (6-0, 180, Sr.), WR/X 3 Justice Liggins (6-1, 190, Sr.), LT 62 Emmanuel Terrazas (6-2, 235, Sr.), LG 56 Adrian Pulido (6-0, 255, So.), C 55 Chris Starling (5-11, 250, Sr.), RG 54 Carnelius Davis (6-0, 240, Sr.), RT 52 Travaughn Moore (6-2, 260, Jr.), K 36 Porfirio Benitez (5-6, 145, Sr.).
WAXAHACHIE — QB 3 Jake Villareal (5-9, 185, Sr.), TB 24 Treyvon Hughes (5-11, 190, Jr.), FB 32 Criss Woods (5-6, 189, So.), WR/X 9 Quinn Sargent (6-0, 184, Jr.), WR/Y 20 Isiah Parish (5-7, 150, Jr.), LT 58 Undra Smith (5-9, 206, Jr.), LG 54 Emmit Dowdy (5-5, 185, Sr.), C 50 Jacob Aguilar (6-1, 305, Sr.), RG 62 Luke Calvert (6-0, 250, Sr.), RT 76 Patrick Lawrence (6-5, 230, Jr.), K 28 Dylan McLain (Sr.).
JOHN TYLER — E 81 Tyus Bowser (6-2, 230, Sr.), NG 28 DeAndre Miller (5-11, 230, Sr.), DT 66 Chris Mobley (6-1, 235, Sr.), DE 5 Kavante Jefferson (6-2, 195, Sr.), WLB 15 Andrew Clark (6-0, 205, Jr.), MLB 24 Richard Gipson (6-2, 220, Sr.), SLB 4 DeQuante Woods (5-11, 185, Sr.), CB 25 Traven Johnson (6-1, 190, Sr.), CB 2 Darion Flowers (6-0, 180, Sr.), SS Elliott Hart (5-11, 175, Sr.), FS 13 Terry Ausborne (5-11, 170, Jr.), P 40 Noe Diaz (5-10, 195, Sr.).
WAXAHACHIE — DE 2 Sammy Overton (6-2, 245, So.), DT 65 Gennard Johnson (6-0, 330, Sr.), NG 71 Rudolfo Maldonado (5-11, 250, Jr.), DE 23 Craig Renfro (5-8, 197, Jr.), OLB 42 Austin Davidson (6-1, 190, Sr.), MLB 33 Von Sargent (5-8, 250, Sr.), OLB 5 Dedarron Crawford (5-7, 131, Jr.), CB 85 Nathan Roberson ((6-1, 175, Sr.), CB 20 Isaiah Parish (5-7, 150, Jr.), S 1 Jamoria Rose (6-0, 170, SSr.), S 18 Lorenzo Lacey (6-0, 165, Sr.).
Class 4A Division I Bi-District Playoff
Where: Homer B. Johnson Stadium (15,000/artificial).
Records: John Tyler 9-1; Waxahachie 6-4.
Radio: ESPN 92. FM.
All-Time series: First meeting.
2012 Results John Tyler — Lufkin, W 35-21; Lancaster, L 21-26; Robert E. Lee, W 21-0; Mesquite Horn, W 35-30; UANL (Mexico), W 20-10: Corsicana, W 63-14; Lindale, W 35-0; Jacksonville, W 59-7; Nacogdoches, W 50-7; Whitehouse, W 45-38; Waxahachie — Midlothian, L 7-42; West Mesquite, W 42-0; Corsicana, W 36-12; Mansfield Summit, W 64-57; Lancaster, L 14-45; Mansfield Legacy, W 28-22; Arlington Seguin, L 33-44; Mansfield Lake Ridge, W 77-0; Red Oak, L 17-34; Ennis, W 16-0.
Players to watch: John Tyler — QB/DB Greg Ward (2,997 yards total offense, 35 TDs), WR/DB Fred Ross (1,268 yards total offense, 17TDs), DE/WR Tyus Bowser (52 tackles, 12 sacks, 4 CFs, 3FRs, 3 TDs); Waxahachie — QB Jake Villarreal (78-160-1,088 yards, 10 TDs, 3INTs), RB Treyvon Hughes (185-1,266 yards, 16 TDs), WR Quinn Sargent (24-596-9TDs).
About John Tyler: JT's offense shifted into fifth gear in district play, where the Lions scored 252 points in five games. Ward posted 465 total yards with five TDs and Ross reached the end zone three times and finished with 219 all-purpose yards in the district-championship clinching win over Whitehouse. Ward and Ross could both see action on defense along with Bowser, who dominated last week for five sacks, a key block for a TD, and a forced fumble leading to the game-winning score. JT showed few weaknesses during the regular season, holding opponents to 15.3 points per game, compiling a plus-13 turnover ratio, averaging 40 yards per punt, making four field goals and all 52 PATS, and booting 22 touchbacks.
About Waxahachie: Waxahachie wears teams down with a ground game led by Hughes, who averages 6.8 yards per carry. Five Indians rushed for more than 100 yards during the regular season. The ground game spurred Waxahachie to 31 of its 41 TDs in the regular season, with 68 percent of the Indians' total yardage coming via the run. Hughes headed the rushing attack last week with 26 carries for 103 yards and the lone offensive TD. Sargent sparked the receiving core against Ennis with four catches for 107 yards. Waxahachie held Ennis to 220 total yards, only 40 passing. Waxahachie matched JT with a win over Corsicana and loss to Lancaster, but finished at a minus-51 in point-differential (25.5 average) against the two opponents.
Tyler sideline: "They don't have a lot of size, but they have a lot of speed on defense. They cause a lot of turnovers and they're really disciplined and well-coached. …We're gaining week-by-week, play-by-play, and progressing to the peak point, where you want to be in all phases – offense, defense and special teams." — Lions head coach Ricklan Holmes
Waxahachie sideline: "Their skill people stand out. Their quarterback (Ward) is a high-percentage thrower, they don't turn it over a lot and they're sound on defense. They just line up and execute. They're the kind of team that will be a challenge for us." — Indians head coach David Beam
Next up: JT-Waxahachie winner vs. Wylie-Mount Pleasant winner in area playoffs.
Directions to Homer B. Johnson Stadium: Take I-20 West to Highway 80 North. Take 80 North to Loop 635 North. Stay on 635 to the Centerville Road exit, and go right. Stay on Centerville four or five blocks to Homer B. Johnson Stadium.