Something is much different this year in the rolling countryside of western Grayson County.

Something is much different this year in the rolling countryside of western Grayson County.

In most years, the football equipment at Whitesboro and S&S high schools would be going into storage at this time of year, with thoughts turning to basketball.

Not this year, however.

Separated by about four miles, two long-suffering high schools are giddy after winning outright district championships for the first time. S&S (10-0) is savoring its first-ever trophy in District 7-2A (II). So is Whitesboro (9-1), which shared the 5-2A (I) title with Callisburg last year but won it solo for the first time last week.

"It’s been a lot of hard work but a lot of fun," Whitesboro head coach Eddie Gill said. "We’re seeing the fruits of it now."

Added S&S coach Garrett Patterson: "We’re trying to keep things on an even keel. Not get too high and not get too low, and try to keep doing the things we’ve been doing to win ballgames."

Both teams venture once again into rarely-traversed terrain for them on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. Gill’s Bearcats, in the playoffs for the third straight year, will take on Caddo Mills at Frisco’s Memorial Stadium in the Class 2A Division I bracket. Patterson’s Rams, meanwhile, will face Alba-Golden at Princeton in the 2A Division II playoffs.

Collinsville (7-3), a school from the area which has had better football luck than its neighbors over the years, is in the playoffs for the eighth season in a row. The Pirates will take on Wolfe City tonight in Pottsboro in the Class 1A Division I bi-district round.

Previously, when one talked about gridiron tradition among the West Grayson trio of schools, the discussion began and ended with Collinsville, which made it to the 2000 1A state semifinals and is currently on a successful run under head coach Danny David.

Neither Whitesboro nor S&S could come close to that in the past.

The Bearcats were notorious statewide for having the longest run without a playoff appearance in Texas until 2011, when Whitesboro finally cracked the glass ceiling in its final Class 3A campaign.

Since dropping to 2A in 2012, the Bearcat program has gotten even stronger, with a tie for the district title last year followed by the undisputed crown this fall.

"You look back down through it, our JV was very competitive this year, and our eighth grade and our seventh grade won the so-called district," Gill said. "So it looks good in years to come, but you never can forget it still takes hard work from here on out. We expect it to be the same way next year."

The next thing left for Whitesboro to do is win a playoff game — something they aim to do Friday night against Caddo Mills. The Foxes (4-6) have five losses by a touchdown or less, including a three-overtime loss to Pottsboro.

"We’re pretty solid up front and we’ve got some good skill kids," Gill said. "If we can keep from shooting ourselves in the foot, in other words, play smart football and don’t turn the ball over, hopefully we’ll do good against Caddo Mills and we’ll see where we go from there."

Like S&S, the Bearcats have gotten it done with a powerful ground attack. Senior Collin Kilcrease, who’s been bothered by an ankle injury suffered in the third quarter of the season opener, still is closing in on 1,000 yards rushing and is within 200 yards of the Whitesboro record for career yards, held by Jake Labhart (2003-06).

The only game Kilcrease missed turned out to be Whitesboro’s only loss, a 48-21 setback against soon-to-be-5A Frisco Lone Star.

Kilcrease hasn’t had to be the workhorse he was in the past, thanks to senior flanker Cody Ford, who has 724 rushing yards and 12 TDs after returning from last year’s ACL injury, and quarterback Kyle Lynn, who has seven rushing TDs to go with his 900 passing yards and six TDs.

"Like I tell my kids, we may not be sexy, but we’re going to be there," Gill said.

The Bearcat defense has been a force, with Bryan Townsend leading the charge up front and former quarterback Devin Schares at corner. Whitesboro has four shutout wins, well short of the school record of seven set in 1948 but still impressive given the amount of offense in the modern day.

While Whitesboro has become a playoff regular this decade, the postseason atmosphere is still a new experience for S&S, which was founded in 1960 by the consolidation of Sadler and Southmayd schools.

In 1998, the only other time the Rams have made the playoffs, they squeezed past Gunter and Aubrey to finish third in District 11-2A and beat Leonard, 31-28, on Richard Ayala’s last-second field goal in the bi-district round in Frisco.

The Rams came close to returning in 2001, with a 32-8 win over eventual state runner-up Van Alstyne. But a Week 9 upset loss to Bells scuttled the Rams’ hopes.

Last season, a 38-35 loss to Tom Bean decided the third and final playoff berth — but Patterson, in his third season at S&S, knew his team was close to a breakout.

"We didn’t win a game our first year here," Patterson said. "We kept the majority of kids on JV. We tried to build from the bottom, and three years later, we’re here."

Senior Willie Winborne is the Rams’ go-daddy, with an area-high 1,815 yards and 24 touchdowns on the year. Even with a huge number of other players worthy of praise, Patterson can’t help but gush about his star tailback and middle linebacker.

"He’s a machine," Patterson said. "He works hard and he’s a great kid. He’s very coachable. He’s what coaches wish they had in all their kids. He leads by example."

With a stout defensive corps and with a deep offensive and defensive line which keeps players fresh for the second half, Patterson hopes his Rams can make some noise in the 2A Division II playoffs.

"They’ve impressed upon this school their place as the best team in the history of this school," Patterson said. "But with that being said, I don’t want them getting complacent and happy. I want them to keep on working and make it an even greater impression."