After emotional high, Wildcats need to guard against fall from mountain top

By BOBBY "BUTCH" BURNEY | News-Telegram Sports Editor

Nov. 8, 2007 - Last Friday was an emotional high for the Sulphur Springs Wildcats. Head coach Greg Owens has cautioned his players about falling from the mountain top.

The Wildcats beat Texas High 28-24 on Friday to clinch at least a share of the District 11-4A championship, their first since 1995. It was also the first district loss for T-High in 27 games.

Now, the Wildcats (8-1, 4-0) must refocus on the North Lamar Panthers (3-6, 1-3), who have been eliminated from playoff contention after five straight years in the postseason.

The game is scheduled to kickoff at 7:30 p.m. Friday at R.L. Maddox Stadium in Paris.

"I think our kids are doing a great job of focusing," Owens said of this week's practice. "It's been a little bit more laid back, I guess, with not having to win right now. It's been a normal week for us.

"We've talked about the importance of us continuing to come out and play well. But, it'll be a game-time situation to see if their minds are really focused."

He hopes the 40-7 defeat at the hands of the Panthers last season will resonate with the Wildcats.

"North Lamar is a team that came in here last year and pretty much embarrassed us," Owens said. "We didn't make them punt, we couldn't move the ball offensively on them. I think the kids that were here on varsity last year remember that and believe that we owe those guys."

Other than both teams wearing blue and gold, the game will be one of contrasts. North Lamar is a ground-control team that runs far more than it passes, while Sulphur Springs employs the spread offense and has thrown the ball about 130 times more this season than they have ran it.

Owens said it will be up to the Wildcat defense to shut down North Lamar's running attack, which is powered by 6-4, 269-pound left tackle Corey Woods and 200-pound running back A.J. George. If the Panthers have the opportunity, they will run the play clock down as far as possible to shorten the game and limit the Wildcats' offensive opportunities.

"We've got to play with emotion and get some big stops early," said Owens. "It's the same as always - we want to start fast, both on offense and defense, and get on top of them early.

"I'm expecting a very spirited ball game with a lot of hitting and a very physical game."

He believes North Lamar will give maximum effort to knock off the district champions, especially since the Panthers' season ends on Friday.

If Sulphur Springs' offense can continue on its school-record pace, though, it will be tough for North Lamar to match it. North Lamar has scored more than 28 points just once this year, and that was against Commerce.

Sulphur Springs, meanwhile, has scored at least 28 points in every game but two.

"If we can put points on the board, we can take them out of their grind-it-out offense and make them throw, which is not what they want to do," Owens explained. "They're not built to spread it out all over the field."

The outcome of the game likely comes down to how well the Wildcats have been able to get the Texas High victory out of their psyche and focus on North Lamar.

"I feel like the kids have handled it well," Owens said. "We don't have time to reflect back on T-High, this is about North Lamar this week. I think our kids have done a great job."

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