GUNTER — The man who helped author the current run the Tigers are hoping to extend is standing in the way of that very goal and trying to help his own team start a Gunter-like run.
If there is one other team in the state that Jake Fieszel likes to see do well it is the Rogers Eagles, who are led by former Gunter offensive coordinator Charlie Roten. Except this week.
“It’s a feeling of respect. It’s awesome to see the success he’s had at Rogers,” Fieszel said. “Me and Coach Roten are great friends but we are competitors this week.”
There is plenty of history involved as Gunter (11-1) faces Rogers (11-1) in a Class 3A Division II Region II semifinal at 2 p.m. on Friday at Corsicana, if only because the past led to the present for both programs.
The winner will face either Holliday or Lexington in the region final.
When Roten changed the Gunter offense leading into the 2016 season, he helped lay the foundation for the greatest stretch in school history. It started with a 16-0 season and the 3A Division II state championship. A few months later Roten took over at Rogers.
And while the Tigers have kept winning — the state runner-up in 2017, a state semifinalist in 2018 — with the same philosophy, Rogers was building up under that same architect.
“He’s been there for three years and had two big off-seasons with them,” Fieszel said. “He’s got a really experienced team. You pair that up and see what’s happening there.”
It also provides a conundrum for both sides. How do you game plan for a scheme you know so well — and your opponent knows you know it so well? How many wrinkles can you add to throw them off the scent? And are they thinking you are thinking of doing that and try to react accordingly?
“They know what we do because they’re extremely similar to us,” Fieszel said. “I think you can outsmart yourself because you’re chasing that rabbit hole. At the end of the day just go out and play.”
The Tigers are the three-time defending region champions and riding a 10-game winning streak. In that span they have allowed more than two touchdowns just once and scored at least 49 points six times.
After opening the postseason with a 53-7 win over Tolar, Gunter held off Clifton, 27-14, last Friday to advance.
Peyton Lowe had 12 carries for 116 yards and a touchdown to go with a pair of catches for 46 yards and two TDs, Clayton Reed finished with 15 carries for 107 yards and Bryson Rigsby added a score on the ground as the Tigers made a 27-7 half-time advantage stand up.
Clifton managed just 76 yards on 23 carries but did throw for 246 yards.
For the season, Reed leads the team with 98 carries for 808 yards and six touchdowns and 20 catches for 231 yards and four TDs while Lowe has 68 carries for 521 yards and 11 touchdowns to go with 14 catches for 332 yards and eight scores. Rigsby has chipped in 451 yards and five TDs on 83 carries. Hudson Graham has run for five touchdowns and thrown for 13 with just three interceptions and David Denton had 15 catches for 155 yards and five TDs.
Through 12 games, the Tigers have allowed less than 200 yards per game — including only 77 rushing yards an outing.
“At the beginning of the year we felt we would have a really good team,” Gunter said. “We have really good senior leadership. It’s been that way all year long.”
Roten’s first year was a 4-6 season before improving to 6-5 last year with a bi-district defeat. The Eagles are in the region semifinals for the first time in five years.
The only loss for Rogers this season was against Clifton, 27-21, in District 8-3A (II) play.
The Eagles opened the playoffs with a 36-33 win over Buffalo before a 46-14 victory last week against Jacksboro.
In that win, Rogers led just 14-7 at half-time before scoring five straight touchdowns in the second half to blow the game open. Quarterback Heath Schiller finished with three touchdown runs and was 11-of-16 passing for 107 yards and two TDs — both to Brady Sisneroz, Jordan Riley ran eight times for 109 yards and a score and Christian Riley chipped in 70 yards and a touchdown on eight carries.
The Eagles forced four turnovers but Jacksboro did run for 206 yards on 43 carries and added another 105 yards through the air.
“We’re both in the third round because we do what we’ve needed to and that’s the bottom line,” Fieszel said. “I think we’re playing our best football and we’re going to have to to compete with Rogers. They’re the real deal.”