|Sulphur Springs hits meat of schedule as District 12-4A play begins this week|
|Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor|
Oct. 1. 2005 - After two months of practice and five non-district games as appetizers, the Sulphur Springs Wildcats will get to the meat of their schedule next week when District 12-4A play begins.
Only two of the six teams in the district have winning records going into next Friday's 12-4A openers. The opening schedule has Paris at Sulphur Springs, North Lamar at Mount Pleasant, and Texas High at Greenville.
If this season's pre-district results tell prognosticators anything, it's that other than the favorite, Texas High, there doesn't seem to be a sure thing among the other five contenders. The Tigers are ranked No. 8 in the state by the AP Poll.
"I think Texas High is on a higher shelf than everyone else right now," said SSHS head coach Brad Turner. "Last year, I thought Texas High was better than everyone else and we were above the other four teams. But this year, I don't know that anyone has distinguished themselves as being on a different level other than T-High."
Below is a look at the 12-4A teams heading into next week's openers:
The Panthers (5-0) have rolled to the best non-district record - the second consecutive year they have started with five straight wins - but, they have done it against suspect opponents.
North Lamar beat four Class 3A teams (Winnsboro, Mount Vernon, Pittsburg and Commerce) and one winless Class 4A teams (Athens). Those five teams have a combined record of 9-18.
The Panthers do have a lethal weapon in tailback Broderick Franklin, who has rushed for 1,110 yards and 11 touchdowns on 112 carries.
North Lamar qualified for the playoffs last year for the first time in Class 4A, as the third-place team in the district. They travel to Mount Pleasant next Friday.
The district's bell cow, the Tigers (4-1) lost the season-opener to John Tyler, 20-16, but have won four straight against some pretty good competition in arch-rival Arkansas High, Shreveport Evangel, Hallsville and Atlanta.
Other than John Tyler, none of the other schools has scored more than 13 points against the Tigers, who have 15 starters back from last year's district championship team.
Three seasons removed from a state championship, the Tigers went three rounds deep in the playoffs last year. Back from that team are Super Team linebacker Dustin Earnest, a University of Texas pledge, and junior quarterback Ryan Mallett, who threw for more than 2,000 yards in 2004.
The Wildcats are among three teams with 2-3 records. They hope their level of competition has prepared them more appropriately for district.
Only SSHS and Greenville have not played a 3A team, and the Wildcats and Texas High are the only schools to have played a 5A squad.
Sulphur Springs has given up 150 points, the second-most in the district, which includes 18 rushing touchdowns - something they will most likely have to remedy to make a strong playoff push.
Offensively, the Wildcats are averaging 24 points per game.
The Tigers (2-3) have run hot-and-cold. They opened with a nice win against Liberty-Eylau, but fell by large margins in consecutive weeks to Daingerfield, Hallsville and Atlanta.
But, they picked up a momentum-booster last night with a 15-14 victory over Sherman with a field goal in the final minute.
The Tigers open the district season with two playoff teams from last year - North Lamar and Sulphur Springs, so they will have a quick look at their playoff chances.
The Lions have compiled a 2-3 record against a difficult non-district schedule.
After winning just one game last year, the Lions beat Carrollton Newman Smith and Sherman, but were blown out by state champion Kilgore and Lancaster and lost a 3-point decision to Terrell.
After starting the season in the spread offense, the Lions have returned to the I-formation, as they did last year.
The Wildcats are at the bottom of the pre-district standings with a 1-4 record. Their only win has come against winless Class 3A Quinlan ford.
Early in the season, the Wildcats showed some offensive prowess, scoring 99 points in their opening three games against Commerce, Quinlan Ford and Class 3A state champion Gilmer. But, in their last two games, the Wildcats have managed just 14 points against Forney and Liberty-Eylau.
They lost to L-E, 34-7, last night, and must travel to Gerald Prim Stadium on Friday to play the Wildcats, who will have two weeks in which to prepare.