WHITESBORO — When the Bearcat seniors were about to enter high school, Whitesboro was coming off the best season in program history.
Now as they are closing out their careers, they have a chance to put another stamp on what has become the golden age of Whitesboro football.
“We were sixth-graders the first year Whitesboro made the playoffs and we were thinking that things had changed,” senior Weston Hickman said. “Not just keep it going but further it. This is what this group has set out to do.”
Keeping the ride lasting another game comes as Whitesboro (8-3) faces Jefferson (10-1) in a Class 3A Division I Region II area round game at 2 p.m. on Friday at Emory Rains.
The winner will face either Grandview or Hughes Springs in the region semifinals next week.
In each of the past three seasons, Whitesboro made the playoffs, won at least one playoff game but still finished with a losing record.
“Hopefully we learned a little bit from that,” Whitesboro head coach Eddie Gill said. “We had a lot of leftovers from last year. In the spring and summertime, they were putting in the effort.”
A victory this week would be their ninth of 2017, something only that 2013 team, which won a school record 10 games, and the 1948 squad can claim. The bi-district win was just the second time since 1948 — and fifth overall — that Whitesboro has won as many as eight games in a season.
Of course the streak of seven straight playoff appearances is significant because before it began, Whitesboro was known as being one of the few schools to never have qualified for the postseason.
After two consecutive 5-7 finishes, the Bearcats went undefeated through 5-3A (I), claiming a district title for the first time in four years and ending Pottsboro’s seven-year stranglehold on the top spot.
“We really wanted to win a district championship. That’s everybody’s goal when you start out,” Gill said. “As far as a team goal, it was something we were able to focus on since we had clinched a playoff spot a few weeks earlier.”
Whitesboro advanced to the second round with a 36-26 victory against Maypearl. Brooks Barker had 19 carries for 136 yards and two touchdowns, Scout Sanders ran 20 times for 65 yards and two scores and Bradley Klingler returned an interception 38 yards for a touchdown.
“Everybody is working hard to improve. We’ve got a lot of hard workers,” senior linebacker Nolan Frith said. “District championships don’t mean as much if you don’t make a run in the playoffs.”
The Bearcats trailed, 12-7, after the first quarter due to a touchdown on the opening kickoff and a blocked punt set up the Panthers with a short field before Whitesboro gained control. Maypearl finished with just 211 yards and had three turnovers.
“I don’t think there was panic. There was definitely a sense of ‘what in the world is going on,’” Gill said. “The sideline kinda calmed down. It’s a foundation built on over the course of years.”
Whitesboro had a three-game losing streak in the middle of the season against Gunter, Melissa and Fort Worth Christian — teams that are still playing with a combined 31-2 record. But the defense has carried the way by holding opponents to two touchdowns or fewer in six of the wins.
“Our defense is playing very well. I don’t want to sound cliche but that is how you win big games,” Gill said.
Added Frith: “It helps to have quite a bit of experience. We pride ourselves on a strong defense. That’s a priority.”
Jefferson has 10 victories in a season for the first time since 2006 and just the second time in the past 22 years. The Bulldogs’ only defeat was a 35-21 setback against District 8-3A (I) champion White Oak, which was the only time Jefferson hasn’t scored four touchdowns.
The Bulldogs opened the playoffs with a 69-30 victory against Farmersville — the fourth time they have scored 60 points in a game this season.
Tybo Williams ran for 287 yards and five touchdowns on just nine carries, Dee Black ran seven times for 91 yards and a score and Trey Hodge was 5-for-5 passing for 71 yards and a TD to T.Q. Jackson.
Farmersville did run for 305 yards and all four touchdowns on 48 carries.
Three Bulldogs have run for at least 10 touchdowns, led by Williams gaining 1,032 yards and 15 scores on 67 carries. Black has 58 carries for 863 yards and 10 TDs and Hodge has 427 yards and 11 touchdowns on 65 carries.
Hodge is 70-for-121 passing for 1,556 yards and 15 touchdowns with eight interceptions.
Jackson is the leading receiver at 30 catches for 763 yards and eight touchdowns but the next five wideouts all have at least 100 yards.
“Jefferson’s extremely talented. They score at will. You watch them hand the ball off and they’re gone,” Gill said. “We’re going to have to play really well.”