The handwriting is on the wall and the collision is inevitable.
Just like both sides want.
Sulphur Springs treks to Texarkana to meet old nemesis Texas High in a 7:30 p.m. district battle at Grim Park.
The teams are two of the top squads in District 14-4A and this meeting will draw a lot of attention. The winner will have a leg up on taking the title.
Sulphur Springs, the defending district champion, comes into the game fresh from a 63-28 home win over Mount Pleasant. In that game, scat back Willy Ivery ran into the Wildcat record book with seven total touchdowns and more than 300 yards of all-purpose offense.
The Wildcats are at 4-2 following the big win, 1-0 in district. Texas High is 5-1, 1-0.
"I can't really tell if this team is still happy after the big win over Mount Pleasant. They keep an even keel," said Greg Owens, Sulphur Springs head football coach. "This is a unique team. Each year the team develops its own personality, this team doesn't get too high or too low. They roll with the punches and make things happen. They performed well against Mount Pleasant. Willy Ivery, Larry Pryor led the offense and the defense stepped up and played well."
Owens said, "This week we are more on edge, it's another big ball game for us and Texas High is a very good opponent. We've always had a struggle playing up there at their place. We have talked this season about breaking some patterns. For a while it was win one, lose one. Then we didn't win a home game until we beat Mount Pleasant. Now it's the pattern of not having a win in Texarkana since 1998. Dwayne McMeans was the coach then and he is reminding everybody of that. Coach Abron (defensive coordinator Triston Abron) was a player on that team. He is reminding us too. We want to break patterns and get a win Friday."
The teams will feature contrast on the offensive side of the ball. Sulphur Springs is a wide open spread team which scores 43 points a game. The Wildcats lead the district averaging 480.8 yards per game.
Texas High is scoring 28 points and rolling up 275 yards per game from their ball control, slow tempo style.
The Tiger defense has held four opponents to eight points or less.
Both teams come into the game riding three-game winning streaks. The Wildcats are averaging 61 points per game during that span.
Sulphur Springs defeated Texas High 45-25 last year.
"Texas High is physical, we will see things we haven't seen, like a tight end," Owens said. "They can use spread type personnel. They just have basic formations, they will be slow and run the clock down. That's their style of playing. Barry (Coach Barry Norton) has done this for years and been successful. The big linemen lean on you and they try to put you in a bind. They are not huge linemen, they do a good job of getting a body on a body. They have one 300 pounder, most are smaller than him. But they are good."
Tre Walker is the sparkplug which runs the show for the Tigers. Walker, a senior running back, is third in the district with 127 carries for 649 yards and three scores.
"Walker is their main running back, he's exceptionally fast," Owens said. "He gave us fits last year when he ran out of the Wildcat formation. He's a heck of a football player. They are a 60 to 40, run to pass ratio team. Coach Norton may be smiling over in Texarkana with all this rain. He may be thinking it is going to be a mudder or a grinder. Offensively, they are conservative. Their passing game is not complicated, they throw either hitches or go deep. Not too much in the intermediate range. That's been the deal. They don't have the great passer or receiver like they have in the past years."
Owens mentioned such standouts as quarterback Ryan Mallett and wide open Cobi Hamilton who are now bringing home NFL pay checks.
The Tigers have the No. 1 ranked defense in the district. Texas High is allowing 190.8 yards per game. The lowest total by a large margin. No. 2 defense in the district is Hallsville with allows 386.7 yards a game.
"There's a lot of reasons for Texas High having the defensive statistics they have. I am not really giving bulletin board material, but they play a slow down offense and that’s less possessions for the offense," Owens said. "Another reason is they are very good on defense. I look through the teams they've played, Tyler Lee is a common opponent. They gave up some yards and lost 38-37 to Lee. They beat Pine Tree, they are just okay. Some of the other teams they not been very good or challenged them. Lee would be the only game. We have that video and compare that to our game. I think our schedule has prepared us for this kind of ball game."
Top players on defense include Justin Lewis a 5-11, 270-pound noseguard Owens has nicknamed "Warren Sapp" because of his statue and ability. Another standout on the defensive line is Will Brown, a 6-2, 280 pounder. Anthony Rhone at linebacker is another team leader. Rhone had 163 tackles last season. Sources say the linebacker had verbally agreed to play at SMU.
"They have some very good defensive linemen," Owens said. "Lewis is athletic, quick. He gets in the backfield and disrupts things. He's strong and can do it for them. Brown is 6-2 and a big rascal. When those two get their motor running they are really something. Wanya Jenkins is another player who can give you trouble. We have to get in a rhythm offensively and get them breathing hard. We want to get our offense in gear them and make them tired."
Owens continued, "Rhone at linebacker is another good one. Rhone is a leader and plays sideline to sideline. He plays fast in the middle. 78 and 8 (Lewis and Rhone) are the key players on defense. They play with a fast motor. Their secondary is good. Texas High always has a good secondary, they can change the game. They have some tall, rangy, athletic players with speed. They are not really tricky on defense. They have good players, they line up and play football. For us it is going to be very important to use our tempo on offense against the best defense we have seen so far. We need to take care of the football and take shots when we get them."
"It's important for us to come out and take control of the game," Owens said. "We want to take the football and score. If they fall behind several touchdowns, then that takes them out of their comfort zone. They don't want to have to play fast. They want to keep the ball and run the clock. That keeps our offense off the field. Our offensive line is going to have a big challenge going up against them. Momentum is huge in a game like this. Before we have gotten the lead, but Texas High came back to win. We want to get the lead and hold it. Our defense also needs to force some turnovers."
Owens said he has known Texas High's head coach Norton for a long time dating back to Stephen F. Austin State University. Norton was a graduate assistant when Owens was a linebacker for the Lumberjacks.
"Barry has done a tremendous job at Texas High, he has built a fine program in all sports," Owens said. "Texas High is good and they get respect because they are always relevant. That's why we have a rivalry with them. Texas High is always there and we always want to beat them. We have battles with them in all sports. We want to go up there and get a win Friday. We know it will be tough. We got to keep our foot on the gas and control the football."
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