CELINA — The Celina Bobcats may experience a sense of deja vu Friday in their Class 4A Division II Region II semifinal against the Texarkana Pleasant Grove Hawks, but that’s fine as long as the result remains the same.
In addition to being a rematch of last year’s 23-19 Celina victory in the same round, the Bobcats (9-3) will be facing offensive and defensive schemes with which they’re already familiar. But in the Hawks (12-0), the execution of those schemes is a little better.
Bobcats head coach Bill Elliott said it’s no surprise Celina will face its biggest challenge of the season at Sulphur Springs’ Gerald Prim Stadium.
“That’s the way the playoffs are going to be,” Elliott said. “We’re in the final 16 teams in the state left in our division. They’re all going to be great teams.
“We faced a great team last week in Jasper (a 35-27 victory) and they’re very similar to what we’re going to see this week in Pleasant Grove, very similar teams. Their athletic ability, a lot of speed, great size up front. They run the same type of offense, same type of defense. It’s kind of a mirror image of what we saw, probably a step better than what Jasper was last week.”
In fact, it’s almost the same image the Bobcats have seen for almost a month now.
“Really, we’ve been seeing it for three weeks in a row, starting with Aubrey the last district game to Ferris our first playoff game, then Jasper last week and now Pleasant Grove,” Elliott said. “All very similar offenses, kind of old-school, Wing-T offenses. They like to run the football and those kinds of things.
“It just every week’s been stepped up to being a little bit better, a little bit more physical team, a little faster team. But in our preparation, it really has helped a lot.”
What the Hawks do better, or at least differently, is force the pace of play despite not being a spread team.
“A whole lot is their tempo at which they break the huddle,” Elliott said. “It’s not really the tempo of the game like you see a lot of teams run up-tempo, but it’s basically the tempo of how they come out of the huddle. Once they get their play, they’ll snap the ball from the time they break their huddle in about four seconds. So you’ve got to get your alignment right and set and ready to go before they snap the ball. That’s the most difficult thing they deal with.
“And the fact that they’ve got two running backs that are probably the best running backs we’ve seen all year, just in their size and their speed.”
Elliott said the Bobcats are up to the task.
“We’ve just got to prepare,” he said. “Our kids feel very confident right now. They’re playing at a very high level and we’re peaking at the right time. We’re pleased with where we are and the effort they’re giving.
“That’s what we’ve talked to the kids about going out. This time of year is known as Celina Time. That’s the way it’s been for the last 25 years. We’ve been known for that. When you get into the playoffs, things get different and you step it up to a different level. That’s what they’ve done the last two weeks.”
Celina free safety Skylar Bohall said the Bobcats know what to expect from the Hawks.
“We’re in the third round, so everyone’s good,” he said. “We’ve got to keep up the intensity and that’s really what we’re focusing on. We’ve got to pick it up and show everyone what we’re about, keep going.”
Making that easier, Bohall said, is the history and tradition of the Celina program.
“It means a lot,” he said. “We’ve got a great town behind us and it is such a tradition. Celina’s in the playoffs almost every year and we’ve got everyone rallying around us. It helps a lot.”
Pleasant Grove averages 416.8 total yards (293.0 rushing, 123.8 passing) and 43.3 points per game. Running back T.J. Cole (170-1,319, 18 TDs rushing; 15-298, 3 TDs receiving) is the focal point of the offense, but the Hawks have a number of other weapons. Running backs Chauncey Martin (72-768, 10 TDs rushing) and Bruce Garrett (74-722, 7 TDs rushing) augment Cole’s production, while quarterback Ben Harmon (63-100-6 1,499 yards, 23 TDs passing) and receiver Carson Cox (21-626, 10 TDs) give Pleasant Grove a solid passing threat.
“We’re just going to have to all do our job and trust everyone else to do their job, and get lined up,” Celina linebacker Casen Heistand said. “As fast as Pleasant Grove runs plays, we’re going to have to get lined up and be ready.”
Heistand and Bohall lead a Bobcat defense that has allowed 245.3 total yards (103.9 rushing, 141.4 passing) and 21.1 points per game.
Defensively, Pleasant Grove has given up 266.9 total yards (155.8 rushing, 111.1 passing) and 16.5 points per game. Linebacker Caleb Porchia leads the Hawks with 152 tackles. Celina counters with an offense that has put up 359 total yards (269.8 rushing, 89.2 passing) and 38 points per game.
Logan Point (131-839, 14 TDs) leads a balanced Bobcat rushing attack with Ismael Ortiz (129-768, 6 TDs) and quarterback Noah Ross (148-729, 12 TDs) right behind. Ross is also 59 of 124 passing for 885 yards and 10 TDs with receivers Major Martin (25-394, 6 TDs), Jimmy Allan (15-217, 2 TDs) and Ryan Nebeker (12-106) being the main targets.
In their victory over Jasper, Celina took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter and managed to stay a step ahead of the Bulldogs the rest of the way, protecting an eight-point lead for the final 8:29. The Bobcats are 4-1 in games decided by eight points or less, and Elliott said the team has benefited from the close games.
“Any kind of game like that where you have to play the whole game is good,” he said. “I like that. One thing is conditioning. It’s also mental game. Our kids fought the whole game, so they know how to get in a fight and fight and keep clawing and not giving up, not getting down and continuing to keep on.
“Even if there’s any kind of adversity, things go wrong or somebody makes a big play, because this time of the year people are going make big plays (Jasper’s touchdowns came on plays of 40, 26, 22 and 60 yards). They’re talented and they’re going to break plays. You’ve just got to take that in stride and keep playing and know that there’s a whole game to to be played. One play’s probably not going to win the game.”