LEONARD — Going into the playoffs, the eight seniors just wanted a victory.

LEONARD — Going into the playoffs, the eight seniors just wanted a victory.


The Tigers’ upperclassmen had been to the postseason each of the previous two seasons only to see their time in the playoffs last just a single game.


"During the off-season, we talked about Week 12," Leonard head coach Shane Fletcher said. "That’s always been a goal of ours. They were going to fight to the end, win, lose or draw."


So Leonard’s leaders weren’t trying to be greedy when it came to goals. They knew they would be good enough to get back in the bracket despite some key losses. They just didn’t want to have their careers finish with a hole in it.


"The last two playoff losses helped us get here this year," senior quarterback Justin Bennett said. "Right now it feels like a dream."


Once the Tigers were able to survive the bi-district round and break not only their negative streak but one the program carried for nearly three decades, Leonard has been out to make this a season to remember.


Whether it has been the return of two-way standout Solomon Titus as a fully healthy weapon, or the squared-toed shoe, straight-on kicking by Ty McKinney, or the two-headed quarterback of Bennett and Ryan Nixon or a change of momentum on defense by Cody Crane or Jon Rosenbaum, Leonard has been able to spread around the ability and credit for getting to this point of the season.


"We’re experienced and ready to play," junior lineman Dylan Pelton said. "We’re hungry. We want it. We’re still playing football while it’s supposed to snow. That’s never happened."


Next up for the Tigers is a region championship as Leonard (10-3) faces Cooper (13-0) in the Class 2A Division II Region II final at 2 p.m. on Saturday at Wylie.


The winner will face either Canadian or Cisco in the state semifinals.


"It’s really different," junior back Dylan Monck said. "Usually we’re in off-season by now."


This has become the best season in school history for the Tigers, who surpassed the program’s third-round appearance in 1986. That year also happened to be the last time Leonard won a playoff game.


"The community’s just exploded, which is awesome," Fletcher said. "It’s something else. I think the kids have handled it better than me."


While the Tigers are proud of making their own history, they remain focused on making sure it continues.


After an overtime victory against Edgewood to start the playoffs and a win against Blooming Grove in the area round, Leonard made it to the region final with a 55-44 victory against S&S last Saturday.


The game was a District 7-2A (II) rematch that the Tigers lost 19-16 on a field goal with four seconds left. Both teams surpassed that point total by the second quarter in the second time around and Leonard got contributions from across the lineup.


"Who have thought that?" Fletcher said. "After a 19-16 defensive slugfest that there would be a shootout."


Titus scored three touchdowns — rushing, receiving and an interception return — and had 250 total yards from scrimmage while Monck chipped in three touchdowns, two receiving.


The Tigers got a stellar effort from its two quarterbacks. Bennett completed 11-of-12 attempts for 215 yards and three touchdowns and Nixon completed both of his throws for 53 yards and a TD. It was the most passing yardage that Leonard had produced in a game this season.


"It’s nice to have multiple threats on offense," Bennett said. "Our offensive line blocked really well. We’re very confident in our offense."


Leonard led 28-16 at half-time and held a 55-30 lead with 10 minutes left before S&S scored twice for the final margin.


Special teams was an issue for the Tigers, who gave up kickoff returns for touchdowns of 98 and 92 yards to two different players and were saved by a penalty that called back an 82-yard punt return for a score.


Cooper is in the fourth round following a 56-18 victory against Scurry-Rosser. DarMarcus Robinson went over 2,000 yards on the season as he finished with 180 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries while four other Bulldogs added rushing scores. Cooper totaled 491 yards on 62 carries.


The Bulldogs opened the playoffs with a 43-7 victory against Leonard’s districtmate Whitewright. Jeremy Mims and Ira Franklin each scored a pair of touchdowns as the Bulldogs piled up all 436 yards on the ground. Whitewright avoided the shutout in the final minute and finished with 151 yards, including 32 yards on 25 carries.


Against the Tigers’ bi-district opponent Edgewood during 8-2A (II) play, Cooper came away with a 52-28 victory. The 28 points was the most allowed by the Bulldogs this season.


Robinson has 2,172 yards and 31 touchdowns while Mims is at 1,486 yards and 19 touchdowns. Cooper has run for 5,653 yards this season with just 347 yards passing.


"They’re old school," Fletcher said. "They’re going to run what they’ve run since the ’80s."


Cooper has outscored its opponents 670-127 this season, scoring at least 38 points in every game and hitting 50 points in seven contests. Defensively the Bulldogs’ worst efforts have come in the last five weeks as the competition has improved. After holding six of its first seven opponents to seven or fewer points for a total of 32 points allowed in that stretch, four of the past six opponents have scored at least three touchdowns.


These two programs met in the bi-district round last year with Cooper advancing after a 44-22 victory before losing to eventual state runner-up Corsicana Mildred in the area round. The Bulldogs got 121 yards and two touchdowns from Robinson and opened a 38-0 lead by the middle of the third quarter.


"We’re a different football team than when we played Cooper last time," Fletcher said. "I don’t know how it’s going to turn out. These guys have been surprising me the whole time. I know I’ll step out there with anyone in that locker room."