By Raymond Linex II
MILDRED — For the second straight season, and for only the third time in the school’s history, Mildred will play for a chance to get to the state finals in football. It’s an opportunity coach Patrick Harvell wants his team to understand.
“I’m 44 years old, and during those 44 years, there have only been a few opportunities to achieve something great and to achieve something you’ll be proud of the rest of your life,” Harvell said. “These guys have an opportunity to do that.”
Mildred has never advanced beyond the semifinals. In 1976, the Eagles lost 26-0 to Ben Bolt in the Class B semis. Last year, they suffered a 35-28 loss to Cisco.
Friday, Mildred (12-1) takes on a streaking Sonora team at 7:30 p.m. in Marble Falls. The winner will face the Elysian Fields-East Bernard winner next Thursday at Cowboys Stadium for the Class 2A Division II title.
Sonora, which owns four state titles, sports an 11-3 record, but has won seven straight since a mind-boggling 27-21 loss to Coahoma, which went 2-8. The other two losses came to Alpine, which won Sonora’s District 3-2A DII, and Wall (12-1), which faces Daingerfield this week in the 2A DI semifinals.
“A lot of times, people put too much stock into the first part of the season,” Harvell said. “At this point, it’s about how you are playing now. The team with the best record doesn’t always win state.”
At this point, any of the four teams remaining are capable. Listening to Harvell describe Sonora sounds a lot like listening to him describe the other teams Mildred has faced this postseason: big and physical up front, fast at the skilled positions, fly to the football on defense.
“They are very sound, very well coached,” Harvell said. “They don’t make mistakes.”
New coach Craten Phillips said in the preseason it would take the Broncos time to adjust to new systems he put into place. They seem to be adjusted now.
Much like Nocona, which Mildred beat 45-35 last week, Sonora is a ground-oriented team. The Broncos average 355 yards a game on offense, 264 on the ground. It starts with running back Darien Lopez, a small speedy back averaging 11.6 yards per carry (130-1,506, 19 TDs). Quarterback Michael Rollert has rushed for 537 yards and nine touchdowns, and thrown for 1,299 more and 15 touchdowns.
The Broncos have had 16 different players record rushing yardage this season.
On defense, Sonora has five players with more than 100 tackles, led by linebacker Chance Campbell, who averages 11.7 per game. Senior defensive tackle Damon Evans has 11 sacks, and Brett Castillo has six of the team’s 17 interceptions.
The Broncos have lowered their scoring allowed from 15.5 in the regular season to 13.8, and two weeks ago in what many called an upset win over Canadian, Sonora held the Wildcats to 43 yards rushing. The Broncos won, 24-14, holding Canadian 22 points under its season scoring average.
On one hand, Mildred has a chance to do something no other team in school history has done. On the other, these Eagles have been here before, and if there is pressure, it’s hard to tell. Practices this week has been loose.
“Each team has a different personality,” Harvell said. “It’s up to the coaching staff to understand the pulse of each one.
“This team is a little more of a fun-loving group. At times, they’re not as serious as we’d like them to be, but it’s the scrappiest bunch I’ve ever been around.”