GUNTER — Through 12 games the Gunter Tigers have been faced with a wide variety of situations, which head coach Jake Fieszel benefits his team heading into Friday’s Class 3A Division II Region II semifinal against the Holliday Eagles.
“Football is a situational game,” Fieszel said. “The way you respond to a situation a lot of times dictates the outcome of the game. In the playoffs, it’s so much about match-ups — how two teams match up with each other, how two individual players match up with each other. Just things like how you handle wind, how you handle a key injury here or there, different kids having to step up in different roles.
“We’re going into our 13th game, so we’ve seen a lot of that throughout the year. Hopefully, you just continue to prepare your team for this week and give them the best opportunity to win on Friday night.”
Gunter fullback-linebacker Zach Lowe said the Tigers have been able to focus on each game as it comes while still being cognizant of the overall goal.
“It’s Week 13 and we’ve got four more to go, hopefully, in a sense,” he said. “Our main goal is to come out here and practice and make it seem like a game. If you play the game now, it’ll make it easy on Friday.
“Our team, we just like to take it step by step, play by play. As long as our guys are doing their jobs, hopefully, we’ll come out with the W at the end of the day.”
The Tigers (12-0) were faced with a new situation last week in their 38-3 area-round victory over Daingerfield — trailing for the first time this season. In fact, just two teams (Whitesboro and Henrietta) had managed to answer an opening touchdown by the Tigers to tie the score, both times at 7-7. Daingerfield took the only lead Gunter has allowed with a field goal midway through the second quarter before Gunter took control.
“It didn’t even cross my mind, honestly, at that point,” Fieszel said. “I knew we had two turnovers and we’d given up multiple third downs and we’d just given up that fourth-and-8. In my mind, holding them to that three points was a small victory.
“I knew that we needed to clean up our play and It needed to happen pretty quick. The kids, I think, felt that, too, at that time. We responded the right way and took a drive right down and scored on them and took a five-point lead into the half, high was right where we wanted to be. We knew we were getting the ball the second half.
“I think our kids responded and were able to take control on the game from that point.”
Gunter quarterback Daylan Bower said overcoming Daingerfield’s lead, which took all of 4 minutes, 59 seconds, was just the latest test the Tigers had to pass.
“It definitely shows our resiliency and (the ability) to not panic under pressure,” Bower said. “It showed last year, too, and it’s just carried on into this season.
“We’re definitely well past getting into the swing of things. We’re rolling right now and the team’s really coming together and we’re figuring it out.”
Gunter continued its run last week by rushing for 327 yards while not attempting a pass. The Tigers average 385.8 yards (320.2 rushing) and 44.8 points per game with six players having gained at least 350 yards rushing. Dylan Jantz (62-862, 17 TDs) leads the ground game, followed by Braiden Clopton (51-706, 12 TDs), Bower (73-681, 12 TDs), Zach Lowe (61-479, 5 TDs), Peyton Lowe (36-382, 12 TDs) and Ethan Everson (45-369, 4 TDs).
Defensively, Gunter has allowed 129.7 total yards and 4.9 points per game with six shutouts. In Holliday (11-1), the Tigers face an offense averaging 343.3 total yards (284.6 rushing) and 37.6 points per game. Running back Justin Jones (164-1,670, 28 TDs rushing; 8-196, 3 TDs receiving) has been the focal point of the offense with Tristin Boyd (112-942, 7 TD rushing) giving the Eagles a solid second back.
“They’re a team that’s really similar to us,” Fieszel said. “They’re a hard nosed team. They’re really well coached. They play really aggressively in all three phases. Their defense is an attacking-style, aggressive defense. Their offense, they base out of a Wing-T set, but they’re very aggressive in their play calling. Then their special teams, as well. They go after your punts quite a bit (six blocks on the season).
“They’re a really aggressive team. We’re just going to have to be at our absolute best on Friday and, hopefully, we’ll come out on top.”
But, Fieszel said, the Eagles’ aggressiveness could work to the Tigers’ advantage if Gunter can break a big play or two.
“That’s definitely something we’ll visit with the kids about,” he said. “With the type of defense they play, they’re going to get us some. We’ve got to just hang in there and do a good job on the sidelines of adjusting and seeing what they’re trying to do. With that, too, hopefully, we’ll be able to get some plays on them, as well. It’s going be a hard-fought ballgame.
“I think this game is going to come down, really and truly, to the team that has the least amount of turnovers and makes the least amount of mistakes. That’s going to be the team that wins this game.”
Holliday has held opponents to just 8.8 points per game. Tanner Bayard leads the team with 128 total tackles, 13 sacks and three blocked punts, while Boyd has 123 total tackles.
“Holliday’s a great team,” Bower said. “They present us some challenges we really haven’t seen this year, but I think we’re going to get it figured out.”