The chase for the district title begins Friday.
Sulphur Springs, the defending champion and pre-season pick to repeat, has a tough first step hosting Mount Pleasant at home.
Mount Pleasant, a team selected second in 14-4A in some publications, also would like to get off to a winning start in district.
The teams, both sporting 3-2 records, clash Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Gerald Prim Stadium.
"We've had a pretty good week of work, " said Greg Owens, Sulphur Springs head football coach. "We need to start well against Mount Pleasant."
Last year the Wildcats won by a 71-65 score in Mount Pleasant in one of the wildest games of the season. The 71 points at that time, was a new scoring record for a single game for the Wildcats. Sulphur Springs hung 77 on Corsicana for a new mark in the final non-district game this year.
Owens said the Wildcats and Tigers are not rivals as they have been in year's past.
"Our big rivals are T. High and Sherman at times," Owens said. "But Mount Pleasant was a rival back in the 70s. This game is important to both teams."
Owens said, "We are trying to back on track. I don't think we have had 100 percent focus. Maybe it is me. We're coming off a bye week heading into district play. We still act like we are on bye week. I don't know if the kids know that Mount Pleasant has a lot of injuries and they don't respect them as much. I am not really sure. I know we have not played really well at home yet. We need to do that. Our challenge this week is to regain our focus coming off a bye week and getting back into game prep. Physically, I know we are fine. We healed some and we feel better about ourselves. My concern is getting the edge back that we had coming off the Corsicana game."
Sulphur Springs rides a two-game win streak into the start of district. After losing the opener to Tyler Lee, 55-20; Sulphur Springs rebounded to whip Sherman on the road, 34-14; the Wildcats lost 61-22 for homecoming a low point in non-district. But Sulphur Springs regrouped to hammer Paris 43-9 in another road victory and on Sept. 27 at Corsicana, the Wildcats broke records to win 77-65 over the Tigers.
"Mount Pleasant started the season like a house on fire," Owens said. "They beat Paris, Liberty-Eylau and Terrell. They lost to a physical Kilgore team (48-20) and that beat them up. They were shellshocked and then lost 32-14 to a talented Atlanta team. The bottom line is we are all 0-0. Now it is all about district play. Those first five games prep you and you learn your identity and the team gains confidence. You hope it carries over from the first five. I never feel comfortable, we won a big one over Corsicana. You don't know how the team will react to this one. The ball has to bounce your way and things have to happen. Our biggest thing is getting our mental focus on the game. I know the kids will play hard. We don't need little mistakes. This week I felt like we were not concentrating on every snap. I may be paranoid, reading too much into that. But we have to make sure on Friday we are hitting on all cylinders. Fundamentals are stressed and we put in a game plan."
The teams feature two of the best offenses in the district. Sulphur Springs is No. 1 with yards per game, averaging 444.6 and points at 39 per outing. Willy Ivery leads the rushing game with 506 yards and 11 touchdowns. Larry Pryor, at quarterback, has thrown for 1,099 yards and rushed for another 392 yards. Pryor has been responsible for seven touchdowns.
Mount Pleasant is No. 3 in offense in the district, averaging 414.6 yards per game.
Top player for the Tigers is Baylor pledge, 6-1 speedster wide receiver Kadarrius (K.D.) Cannon. Cannon has been off like a shot, rolling up 636 yards receiving in just four games. The big play receiver is averaging 17.6 yards per reception and has nine touchdowns for the year, including a 65-yarder.
"Cannon is their big play maker, from kickoff returns to receptions, they put the ball in his hands a lot," Owens said. "We might even see him in the backfield as quarterback in a Wildcat formation. We have to prepare for all those situations. We have to be smart enough and aware to defend it. We also have to be smart in the kicking game not to give it to him. They turn and just give him the ball on pooch kicks. They just feel like they have the best chance to score if he has the ball."
For the year, Cannon has five punt returns for 97 yards, a 19.40 average. He has five kickoff returns, averaging 33 yards a pop with one 95-yard score.
"Cannon is an electric player," Owens said. "Baylor has a good one coming to Waco. He has it all, he’s tall, fast, physical with good hands. He goes up and has tremendous ball skills. I've seen on video just this year, he makes one-handed catches in a crowd. It doesn't matter if he's covered, he goes up and gets it. We will do everything we can to disrupt that, he will get his catches. You don't shut him down, you slow him down."
Owens said, "Coach (Mart) Graham does a good job at Mount Pleasant. Last year it was a shootout with those guys. Graham has a young staff and I think that pumps energy into the players. I have been impressed, they play fast are always attacking on offense and defense. Special teams they are aggressive. They have a different attitude, they will do an onside kick at any time. They get after you. Overall, they have some key guys injured. But the next guy steps up."
The Tigers operate from a spread formation on offense with variations to try and get a mismatch which will allow them to get a big play.
"They are spread like everybody," Owens said. "They have lots of formations. They have diamond sets outside and some junk sets. They put Cannon by himself. We have to make sure that we double him. Our whole game plan is being conscious where he is during the game. We have to be fundamentally sound. We have to attack and tackle well. We worked on tackles during the break. We work on it every week. Read your key, trust you key and make a play."
Owens said, "On defense, they do a good job of tackling. They have a defensive end, Mercer McCoo who has been impressive. He's a senior and physical kid who comes off the edge and plays well. Cody Brantley at linebacker is very active, he blitzes quite a bit for them. Another kid is Josh Scoggins at strong safety is very active and runs well, does a good job. They make plays for them."
Mount Pleasant has a 3-4 look on defense, but move lots of people in and out to create problems.
"Their secondary is very good, they are No. 2 in our district," Owens said. "They depend on a couple of sophomores at safety and we want to take advantage of that. We try to expose those guys, we want to use their aggressiveness against them. They are still learning the position. They are athletic and can run. Their corners are good players too."
Owens said Mount Pleasant might pull a trick or two on special teams as well during the district opener.
"We have to be careful that when they score that we don't turn right back over to them," Owens said. "They try some of the things like we saw against Corsicana. We have worked special teams hard to prepare. We did video study and we continue to work on that."
Owens said, "Our goal is to win out. That means winning district. That is what we are shooting for and we know it's one day at a time and we’re playing at a home. We have to make plays and we string those together. We have three home games left in district. We were road warriors in the first five. Our grass looks good on the field, we haven't beaten it up. We need a home win."
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