POTTSBORO — As the games have gotten closer with each passing playoff round, the Cardinals have had to be both opportunistic and timely on defense.
As the last two games have shown, just a single possession — or a final play, like in the region final — can be the difference between elimination or advancing.
For much of the season, Pottsboro did not face many of these scenarios. The offense has been putting up points at a pace the program has never done before. And so the defense hadn’t been put in the spots it has faced recently.
“They understand the importance of every play,” Pottsboro head coach Matt Poe said. “Our goal is to get all 11 to the football.”
But the sign of a good team is when it can rise to the occasion and the Cardinals are showing that kind of staying power. Now as one of four teams still standing, Pottsboro (14-0) faces Brock (12-2) in a Class 3A Division I state semifinal at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday at The Star in Frisco.
The winner will face either Grandview or Columbus for the state championship.
“The last four teams are all talented. You don’t get to the fifth round for no reason,” senior lineman Adrian Delacruz said. “We have to keep working hard. We can’t make mistakes. We’ve got to play our game.”
It is the second time the Cardinals have reached the state semifinals, joining the 2008 squad, and Pottsboro will look to make it to the title game for the first time. The Cards did set the school record for wins in a season, notching No. 14 to surpass the ‘08 team that set the benchmark with a 13-2 year.
“I think they realize it’s one step at a time,” Poe said. “Next week doesn’t matter. It’s Thursday night that matters.”
A week after beating Malakoff, 38-31, the Cardinals played an even closer game in the Region II final. Pottsboro outlasted Gladewater, 35-34, in double overtime when the Bears went for the win with a two-point conversion. Jackson Lipscomb batted down the throw to the end zone to preserve the lead and the victory.
“The biggest thing was we looked around and we didn’t panic,” senior lineman Riley Deaton said. “We treated it like any other defensive play. We didn’t get scared. We weren’t worried.”
The Cardinals had two big turnovers from Jasek Hooker — an interception in the end zone and a fumble recovery at the Pottsboro nine-yard line — and the offense was led by Braden Plyler, who completed 11-of-17 passes for 242 yards and three touchdowns to go with 20 carries for 67 yards and a touchdown, and Titus Lyons, who caught six passes for 183 yards and two scores.
“It shows their grit and determination. They knew their backs were against the wall in both situations,” Poe said. “The last couple weeks they’ve been in a lot of big situations and haven’t flinched.”
Brock advanced with a 31-21 victory against Pilot Point in an all-District 4-3A (I) match-up and a flip from the first meeting, which the Eagles lost, 20-14, before the current nine-game winning streak.
Cash Jones had 37 carries for 221 yards and a touchdown, Jaxton Gleaton completed 6-of-9 passes for 89 yards and two touchdowns and Myles Semas added a TD on the ground for the Eagles, who were up 17-0 and held Pilot Point to 235 yards — including 20 carries for 30 yards.
“They are a running team but they will play-action a lot,” Poe said. “The big deal is we have to stop the run first but we can’t give up a big play in the passing game either.”
The football program at Brock is less than a decade old. The school district did not offer football at any level before 2011 and it became a varsity sport starting with the 2013 season. Two years later the Eagles went 16-0 and won the 3A Division I state championship and have been in the hunt for their second title ever since.
In every season it has been eligible for the playoffs, which begins with 2014, Brock has reached the state quarterfinals.
The Eagles are in the semifinals for the fourth time in five seasons and third straight year. Brock was the state runner-up in 2017.
All of this has come under Chad Worrell, who was hired to start the program from scratch and in seven seasons has never lost more than three games and won at least 12 games in each of the past six.
Worrell was the head coach at Tom Bean from 2000-03 — leading the Tomcats to their first playoff win in school history in 2002 and made the state quarterfinals that same season — and was also an assistant at Celina in the late 2010s as the Bobcats won a pair of titles in addition to one-year stints at Hamlin and Grape Creek to push his career record to 123-41 in 13 seasons.
The Eagles’ only other loss this season came in the season opener, 10-0, against Brownwood, which made the 4A Division I region semifinals and finished 11-2.
Brock’s success in 2019 has relied on a strong defense and close games. Seven of the 14 games have been decided by 10 points or less and no one has scored more than 22 points against the Eagles all season with nine opponents being held to 14 points or less.
“We’re going to take what they give us. We’ve got guys who can make big plays,” Poe said. “We’ve got to be able to execute.”