POTTSBORO — Braden Plyler has waited more than two years for this. If it weren’t for injuries, he would have been entering his third year as the Cardinals starting quarterback.
Instead, when he made it through the first game of 2019 healthy it was more snaps played than those freshman and sophomore years combined.
The junior signal-caller was stuck on the sidelines for back-to-back 6-5 seasons that ended with bi-district losses.
Now he’s jumped right in and not missed a beat, teaming with senior running back Cy Shope and junior receiver Titus Lyons at the forefront of the highest scoring offense in school history.
“We knew we had a good player on our hands. He’s very accurate. He doesn’t miss a lot,” Pottsboro head coach Matt Poe said. “The biggest adjustment for him was he didn’t have that much experience because he hadn’t played in a year.”
Plyler and the Cardinals hope the year doesn’t come to an end as Pottsboro (12-0) faces Malakoff (11-1) in a Class 3A Division I Region II semifinal at 2 p.m. on Friday at Wylie.
The winner will face either Winnsboro or Gladewater in the region final next week.
The Cardinals have scored 576 points so far — 48 points per game — in surpassing the 525 points scored by the 2015 squad and set the school record with their 12-game winning streak, breaking a mark done four times (1980-81, 2012, 2014, 2015).
“No, I didn’t think that. I thought we could be pretty good,” Poe said. “It all starts up front with what our offensive line does.”
That group — seniors Riley Deaton, Hunter Fulton, Adrian Delacruz and juniors Daniel Graham and Landon Simpson — is essentially an entirely new unit that meshed from the start.
Pottsboro has scored at least 60 points four times this season, including a school-record 63 twice. Before the year started the Cardinals had scored 60 in a game four times in their history and are averaging 431.4 yards per game.
The improvement — on both sides of the ball — is something Pottsboro felt was coming from its upperclassmen.
“I think there’s a lot of maturity there. There’s a lot of improvement you can make from junior to senior year,” Poe said.
For the season, Plyler has completed 126-of-195 passes for 1,881 yards and 21 touchdowns with five interceptions while rushing 126 times for 766 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Lyons has been Plyler’s favorite target with 54 catches for 864 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Shope was a situational running back last season, scoring 17 times on just 47 carries. He took on the full-time role this year and has responded with 197 carries for 1,742 yards and 32 touchdowns to go with 15 receptions for 281 yards and three TDs.
“Cy’s been an exceptional player for us. He’s probably exceeded expectations,” Poe said. “It’s great to have those two guys back there because you can’t just stop one.”
Last week in a 47-35 victory against Sabine, Plyler completed 19-of-29 passes for 215 yards and a TD and ran 19 times for 129 yards and two touchdowns while Shope finished with 24 carries for 128 yards and three scores and Lyons caught eight passes for 88 yards and a TD.
This is a re-match from the bi-district round last season, when Malakoff won, 63-35, on the way to a state runner-up finish. The Cardinals see the meeting as a good one in terms of prepping for Friday.
“I think it definitely helps. They have a lot of guys back,” Poe said. “We feel like we’re a lot better than we were last season on both sides of the ball.”
Malakoff’s only loss this season was a 14-13 setback against Grandview in its second-to-last non-district contest. Even with that defeat, the Tigers have allowed more than two touchdowns in a game all season just twice — a 42-25 win against Dallas Madison and last week’s 53-41 win over Jefferson.
In the victory against Jefferson, De’Dric Davis had 225 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries while as the Tigers totaled 419 of their 561 yards on the ground while Darion Peace threw two touchdown passes and also ran for a score.
Both teams have three opponents in common. Pottsboro had a 63-0 victory over Kemp to open the playoffs; the week before in district play Malakoff topped Kemp 84-0. The Tigers opened the postseason with a 49-3 win against Commerce; the Cardinals earned the 63-14 win against Commerce in district play. Pottsboro won against Rains, 41-27, in district play while Malakoff won, 76-7, against Rains in non-district action.
“They’re going to have success. We’re going to have success,” Poe said. “We can’t get dejected and frustrated if things don’t go our way.”