Like the Sherman Bearcats, Wichita Falls Rider has had some ups and downs heading into Thursday’s District 5-5A opener at Wichita Falls’ Memorial Stadium.
The Raiders (1-3) are coming off a 62-26 thumping at the hands of Kennedale, which was ranked No. 7 in the state Class 4A poll at the time. The Wildcats moved up a spot in this week’s rankings.
Kennedale also handled Sherman rather roughly in the Bearcats’ lone preseason scrimmage, building a 27-3 lead through three quarters on Aug. 25 before Wildcats coach Richard Barrett called an end to the proceedings. And Sherman faced a similar run-based, Wing-T scheme in last week’s 28-6 loss at Garland Naaman Forest.
So what does that mean for this week’s match-up?
“Anything as far as common opponents that come into it, you do look at that,” Sherman coach J.D. Martinez said. “In hindsight, ours was three quarters, 27-3, but they scored two of their touchdowns on our backups. Whether that’s good or bad, who knows? How much was Coach Barrett putting on? You really don’t know all of those factors, but it was a heck of a lot better than the year before.
“I’m not trying to put too much stock into that, but Kennedale did look very, very good and rolling along. Rider, going against a great opponent like Kennedale — and they can exploit you — I think (Rider) got exploited just as far as how tired they got. (Kennedale’s) offensive line was pushing Rider around pretty good. I would love it if we could do that. I don’t know if we can, but I would love the opportunity to come out there and move the sticks. Maybe Rider got beat up a little bit. Hopefully so.”
One factor that may be in Sherman’s favor is how the schedule has worked out. The Bearcats played on Thursday last week, giving them a full seven days of recovery time, while Rider faces a short week after playing on Friday.
“We do have 24 hours on them for recovery, and we need it,” Martinez said. “We’ll definitely take that rest.”
Rider has averaged 385.5 total yards (123.3 rushing, 262.3 passing) and 27.5 points per game. Quarterback Jorge Vargas (62-109-1 1,033 yards, 10 TDs passing) and a deep receiving corps headed by Jake Edgemon (22-423, 5 TDs receiving) have been the key components in the Raiders’ pass-based attack. Running back Brandon Bolton (79-399, 5 TDs rushing) accounts for more than 80 percent of Rider’s rushing production.
Martinez said the Raiders present a different kind of problem than Naaman Forest’s run-first approach.
“I think those types of teams for our defense is a little better because we don’t have to tackle in space,” he said. “It condenses everything in and we’re better tacklers. Rider concerns me because they are so wide-open and spread out. They do spread the field and put their athletes in space.
“We’ve got to improve as a tackling team. This is going to be a real big test for us to be able to tackle in space because they’ve got some athletes. Remember, (Ohio State quarterback) J.T. Barrett is from there. Wichita Falls Rider still has good athletes. We’re going to have to be able to do well tackling in space.”
The Raider defense has allowed 416.5 total yards (245.8 rushing. 170.8 passing) and 38.3 points per games, numbers skewed by Kennedale’s 537-yard rushing performance last week.
“(Rider’s) D-line is pretty good,” Martinez said. “I think they move well, but I think we’re going to match up pretty well with them. If we will come off, be aggressive and finish some blocks, hopefully our running game with Nate (Omayebu) and Michael (Wallace) will be able to move the ball pretty effectively. That’s what we’re hoping to do.
“Going back and looking at last year’s film and how they played us, we just want to be able to keep the chains moving, attack fast and keep rolling.”
As for last year’s game, a 49-39 Rider victory, Martinez is looking for the Bearcats to get off to a better start Thursday night. While Omayebu rushed for 252 yards and three touchdowns a year ago, the Raiders jumped out to an early lead by recovering the opening kickoff in the end zone for a touchdown, popping a 69-yard run and returning an interception 72 yards for a score — all in the first quarter.
“We started off the game (down) 7-0, yelling PAT-field goal on a kickoff return,” Martinez said. “Never did that before. You look at it and those are huge momentum swings where we gave up a touchdown on the kickoff return — still blows my mind; I can’t get over it — and the pick-six. That’s a 14-point turnaround.”
The game eventually was the difference in determining a playoff berth, with Rider qualifying as the fourth-place team and Sherman finishing a game out in fifth place.
Martinez said the key for the Bearcats is to get a little better each day.
“I was talking to (Sherman offensive line coach Josh) Aleman about how it’s like that old Notre Dame show ‘Catholics vs. Convicts,’” Martinez said. “We kind of laugh about it now, but Lou Holtz would start off on Monday, ‘you don’t have a chance.’ Tuesday, ‘I think they’re a little better.’ There’s a little light on Wednesday and Thursday, ‘you can’t lose.’ By Friday, you’ve beat them by 42 points. It’s a mindset.”