Grace Community opens the playoffs against two-time defending state champion Midland Christian, an undefeated team that hasn't lost to a TAPPS school since 2010.

But for Cougars coach Mike Maddox, it makes no difference if you play the top-ranked team first or last.

"The thing is, once you get in the playoffs, sooner or later you're going to play Midland (Christian)," Maddox said.

Grace (7-3) and Midland Christian (10-0) kick off at 7 p.m. tonight from the Mustangs' home field in Midland.

The Cougars played the Mustangs two years ago in the state semifinals, losing 49-7 in Aledo.

Midland Christian's quarterback that day was sophomore Mason McClendon, head coach Greg McClendon's son.

In 2011 McClendon primarily handed the ball off to the school's all-time leading rusher, Christian Whigham. He finished the season with 171.3 yards per game through the air that year and completed five passes for 46 yards against Grace.

Now a senior, McClendon is the focal point of the offense, averaging 300 yards per game.

"Their quarterback, he's grown up a lot," Grace coach Mike Maddox said. "He does a good job directing the offense and passing attack."

The Mustangs still run the ball effectively too, with a slew of backs combining for 192.5 yards per game.

Defensively Midland Christian has five shutouts, having allowed all of 29 points all season, less than a field goal per game.

Grace is coming off a 37-16 road loss to Dallas Parish Episcopal. Though the Panthers pulled away late, the Cougars led 16-14 before a string of plays warped the momentum inexorably to the home side.

Despite the loss, Maddox took positives from his team's performance.

"I thought it was just the greatest effort that we've given all year," he said. "I was just so proud of the kids. They played with passion. We played really well most of the game.

"We just saw our kids playing with passion and the way the game's supposed to be played."

Grace quarterback Chandler Nutt has paced the offense this year, averaging 176.2 total yards per game. Zach Tatman has come on strong late in the year with three straight 100-yard rushing performances, giving him 656 yards and seven touchdowns.

The Cougars reached the playoffs despite a spate of injuries, including running back Kade Clayton, who was expected to carry most of the offensive load, in the second game of the year.

"We're looking forward to the challenge, looking forward to the opportunity that's there for our boys," Maddox said. "For our boys to put us in this position this year with some of the adversity that we've had, they've really come through as a team for each other."

— Travis Yoesting

 

BULLARD BROOK HILL AT FORT WORTH CHRISTIAN

Brook Hill opens the TAPPS Division II playoffs on the road against Fort Worth Christian. Game time is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday at FW Christian.

The Guard (6-4) enjoyed a two-week break from football following their victory over Grace Community. The extra week was due to Brook Hill's final opponent of the regular season, Carrollton Prince of Peace, forfeiting the remainder of its games.

The long layoff worried head coach Bobby Brasher a little. He wondered if his players would return back to the level they showed in the win over Grace.

"We had our first practice last Thursday and it was so-so, and we gave them Friday off," Brasher continued. "They came back Monday and Tuesday and it was the most spirited practice we've had since August. They were fresh, the weather was cool and I was really pleased with how they worked this week."

Forth Worth Christian (7-3) has lost to perennial TAPPS powers Midland Christian and Dallas Christian while also dropping its season opener. The Cardinals, who edged out Grace 35-34 in bi-district last year, enter on a three-game win streak.

Brasher said it is not a secret what Fort Worth Christian wants to do and how it has success.

"We are preparing to stop the run because that is what they want to do," Brasher said. "We just put everybody in the box, or at least a couple more than they block and play man coverage on the outside."

In FWC's losses to Dallas Christian and Midland Christian, the Cardinals were held to 43 and 80 yards rushing.

The Guard enter with a more balanced offense that features quarterback Grant Hanks passing (1,701 yards and 17 touchdowns) and Gabe Lucio's rushing (821 yards and six touchdowns).

Brasher wants to be balanced and also believes Brook Hill can dictate the game if it has success early.

"I don't know if it is one of those deals where we have to score every time we get the ball, but if we do get up a couple touchdowns on them, that will put them in a bind (with their style of offense)," Brasher said.

— Chris Parry

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