GUNTER — A year ago, the Gunter Tigers were in uncharted territory, making the deepest playoff run in program history on the way to winning the Class 3A Division II state championship.
This year, the Tigers are the team everyone else is gunning for, carrying not only the label of defending state champ but the state’s No. 1 ranking in Class 3A. But none of that changes how head coach Jake Fieszel approaches Friday’s area playoff against the Daingerfield Tigers.
“We’re just going to have to do what we do every single week to prepare exactly how we’ve been doing,” Fieszel said. “The coaches have got to do a great job of preparing the kids all week and giving them a chance to win, make great in-game adjustments. The kids have got to trust their training and go out and perform.
“There’s no magic formula to it. God willing, we stay healthy and continue to play well and we’ll see what happens.”
Gunter fullback-linebacker Zach Lowe said the key has been to focus on each game as it comes up.
“We like to take it one week at a time,” he said. “On Friday, we want to be 1-0. We want to have a nameless, faceless opponent, just go out there and do our job and hope we come out of there with a W.”
Gunter (11-0) and Daingerfield (7-4) will meet at 1 p.m. on Friday at Royse City. The winner advances to the regional round to take on either Holliday or Edgewood.
While Gunter carries a 27-game winning streak — tied with Aledo for second-longest in the state behind West Orange-Stark’s 36 — Fieszel said the intensity reaches another level in the postseason.
“Every round, everything gets ramped up — the intensity of the playoffs, the speed of the game,” he said. “There’s no question the playoffs are a whole new season and Gunter’s 1-0 and Daingerfield’s 1-0.
“We’re going to have to continue to improve as a team and play extremely well. The week you don’t do that, you’re not going to be playing anymore.”
Gunter has recorded six shutouts in allowing just 56 points this season. The Tigers, who allow 125.6 total yards per game, broke open last week’s bi-district playoff with Henrietta by converting three turnovers into touchdowns in the third quarter of a 45-13 victory. Along the way, Gunter held Henrietta to 65 total yards in the second half.
“We went into half and had to correct some stuff,” defensive end Colton Schmitz said. “The coaches got it all corrected and we went out the second half and did what we normally do.
The corrections paid off immediately as Gunter forced two turnovers in Henrietta’s first four plays of the third quarter.
“It just gets your blood going,” Schmitz said of the flurry of takeaways. “The whole team starts getting in on it. It just happened back to back.”
Lowe leads Gunter with 90 total tackles, followed by brother Peyton Lowe with 63, Schmitz with 62 and Braiden Clopton with 61. Clopton leads the team in tackles for loss (13) and pass breakups (10), while the Lowe brothers each have 11 tackles for loss. Dylan Jantz has a team-high four interceptions.
Offensively, Gunter employs a multi-faceted attack that averages 391.1 total yards (319.5 rushing, 71.5 passing) and 49.3 points per game. Gunter has six players with at least 300 yards rushing, led by Jantz with 779 yards and 15 touchdowns. Clopton (41-607, 11 TDs rushing; 23-562, 10 TDs receiving) provides an explosive element to the offense.
“Our offense is built on speed,” center Adrian Martinez said. “As long as the linemen fire off and get a clamp on our guys, it gives the guys in the back a chance to break one. That helps a lot.”
Daingerfield started the season 1-3, but came on strong to finish second in District 7-3A Division II before defeating Lone Oak 41-17 in bi-district.
“They’re extremely athletic,” Fieszel said. “They have great size and ability and seed. They’re going to be a tough match-up in all three phases just because of those reasons. They play really hard and they’re a really well-coached ball club, too. They’ve gotten better throughout the season. They played some tough opponents early and have continued to get better and better. They’re playing really good football right now, just like everybody is at this point in the year.
“We’re going to have to, defensively, try to contain them. There’s no way you can just totally shut down their offense, but hopefully we can contain it enough. Speaking from our offensive point of view, we’ve got to attack the entire field. We can’t just hang our hat on one thing. We’ve got to attack the entire field and take our shots when we can.”