POTTSBORO — It is a moment that has been 47 years in the making for the Cardinals.
Since the inception of the program in 1972, Pottsboro is getting its first crack at a state championship. There have been 13 district championships, 12 double-digit win seasons and 21 playoff appearances but only once had the Cardinals been this close when they made the semifinals in 2008.
Now this group is on the state’s biggest stage, sporting an undefeated record and a shot at claiming one final victory — the biggest any team can earn.
“I never would have thought how great the season would have been for us,” senior running back Cy Shope said. “The season as a whole has been crazy. We work real well together. We have faith in each other’s abilities. We trust each other.”
With a balanced offense that has set several program records buoyed by a defense that has come through in crucial moments, Pottsboro (15-0) faces defending champion Grandview (14-1) for the Class 3A Division I state title at 3 p.m. on Thursday at AT&T Stadium.
“It’s pretty awesome. We’re proud to be where we are,” Cardinals head coach Matt Poe said. “We’re so proud of our players and I’m so proud of my coaching staff.”
The collective effort has been on display from the opening week of the season.
“We’ve definitely had some more talented teams that haven’t made it this far,” Poe said. “There’s something special about this group. Every team is different. There’s not a single answer.”
A team coming off consecutive 6-5 finishes and first-round losses has yet to be on the short end of any game, surpassing the 2008 team’s record of 13-2 for best in program history.
“It’s been a very crazy ride, especially through playoffs,” senior linebacker Austin Cates said. “We want to finish 16-0. Playing at Cowboys Stadium, everyone’s going to be there.”
Among those in attendance will be Ron Poe, Matt’s father. Forty years ago he won a state title at McKinney, the high point of a 30-year career that included a runner-up finish in 1986, two other state quarterfinals appearances and 11 district titles across 221 victories.
“It’s a dream come true. That’s the goal of a coach and the pinnacle is to win it all. There’s no more pressure on me than anyone else,” said Poe, whose resume is full of its own bullet points in his 14 seasons at Pottsboro: 131 wins, two quarterfinals, a semifinal and now a title game along with six district titles. “I don’t ever feel like I can fill his shoes because of what he’s done. That’s how much respect I have for my dad.”
For a third straight week, the Cardinals came away with a win that went down to the wire. This time it was a 36-35 victory against Brock and for a second consecutive game the defense made the clinching play.
Tyler Farris’ interception in the end zone with 45 seconds left secured the win after Pottsboro trailed 35-24 going to the fourth quarter.
“We work hard in practice. We work hard in the weight room,” Cates said. “Coaches put together a good game plan. Trusting everyone to make the right play when it has to be made.”
Jasek Hooker and Braden Plyler had the TD runs that finished off the comeback. Plyler ran 30 times for 101 yards and two scores while completing 9-of-13 passes for 216 yards — including a 69-yard touchdown to Ezra Fritts and a 40-yard TD to Titus Lyons — and Shope added 11 carries for 79 yards and a TD and will enter the final game needing 13 yards to reach 2,000 for the season.
“I do know we’ve been battle-tested,” Poe said. “We’ve beaten four really good teams the last four weeks. We’ve been behind all those games and the kids have fought back. I know these guys are locked in. They show up and play.”
Grandview is trying for back-to-back championships after it went 14-2 last season for the program’s first crown in its first appearance in the title game. The Zebras beat Malakoff, 35-14, to cap that season and they have made at least the quarterfinals each of the past three seasons. Just reaching the semifinals was a first last season — Pottsboro beat them in one of their prior opportunities in the 2008 region final.
“The first thing about them is their size,” Poe said. “The difference between Grandview and anybody else is their ability to throw the football. The quarterback as a sophomore was the offensive and defensive player in the state championship game.”
So far in this playoffs, Grandview hasn’t been tested in winning the Region III crown. There was a 42-7 win over Rockdale, followed by a 43-29 victory against East Chambers, a 45-14 win over Cameron Yoe and a 34-13 victory against Troy.
Then in the semifinals, the Zebras picked up a 41-21 victory against Columbus.
Tremayne Gullatte ran 25 times for 128 yards and three touchdowns and Dane Jentsch completed 10-of-17 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown to go with 10 carries for 69 yards and a score as Grandview held a 27-7 half-time lead that stretched to 41-7 early in the fourth quarter.
The lone loss came during District 9-3A (III) play against Whitney by a 26-21 margin in a game Grandview led 21-7 in the fourth quarter and Whitney got a TD pass with 48 seconds remaining to hand the Zebras the defeat.
In only one other game — the playoff win against East Cambers — did the Zebras allow more points and it was the second-lowest point total for Grandview, behind a 14-13 win against Malakoff. A missed extra point following a penalty with just under five minutes remaining was the difference.
That also happens to be the lone common opponent between the two. Pottsboro started its string of recent nail-biters with a 38-31 victory over Malakoff when Plyler scored on a nine-yard run with 36 seconds remaining.