Corsicana and Killeen Ellison began their 2005 seasons with a similar challenge. The two programs had to supplant a bulk of lost starters with unproven newcomers and throw them into the fire.

The results weren’t overly shocking, as the Tigers managed a 3-2 non-district record and the Eagles struggled to a 1-4 pre-district mark. Since then, however, youth has prevailed for these programs, as each has won five of its last six games.

Perhaps the team that has matured the most since August will come out on the winning end of Saturday’s Region II-4A area playoff meeting at Baylor’s Floyd Casey Stadium.

“We started a bunch of young guys too this year,” Tigers head coach Dave Henigan said. “And we took some lumps early in the season. But now all those guys have played 11 games. They’ve all got some experience.”

Ellison knows the feeling. Seven of its 22 starters are seniors, and another 10 are juniors. That leaves four sophomores and yes, one freshman, who have started regularly throughout the ’05 season.

Under fifth-year coach Bret Boyd, the talented crop of youngsters finished 4-1 for a first-place tie in District 16-4A and earned the school’s first playoff berth since 1998. Last week they knocked off Alvarado in bi-district, 23-20, on a field goal in the closing seconds by Tom Santos.

But the potential for this group, says Boyd, has yet to be fulfilled.

“I still don’t think we’re as good as we could be,” Boyd said. “We have an awful lot of young players playing. I think every game and every snap they’re getting a little bit better, but we haven’t had a good, complete ballgame yet. I don’t know if that will happen this year or not, but that’s what we’re working toward.”

Another trait the Eagles share with the Tigers is their use of a spread offense. Sophomore quarterback Ivan Delgado directs the spread, and hasn’t shown many signs of first-year jitters.

Delgado has racked up 1,924 yards on 134 of 262 passing with 10 touchdowns, and also leads the Eagles in rushing with 840 yards and 11 touchdowns on 135 carries.

“The quarterback I think is a really good player,” Henigan said. “He can run it and throw it. He’s a dual threat guy, and he’s the catalyst to their offense. He’s real poised for a sophomore.”

Senior Demyron Bell was slotted to start at quarterback before the season, after playing his junior season as a linebacker. Instead, the 6-foot-2, 203-pound Bell is making a splash as a wide receiver, catching 67 passes for 1,119 yards and seven touchdowns.

On defense the Eagles line up in a 3-4, as inside linebackers Morris Winkfield and Brandon Gillespie (211 combined tackles) patrol the field as both run-stoppers and short pass defenders.

While Boyd said Ellison’s first priority is to limit the mobility of Tiger tailback Jay Finley (188-1,340, 12 TDs), he’s also concerned with Corsicana’s passing game. Junior quarterback Keith Leerskov (141-248-9-1,862, 18 TDs) has favored wideouts Greg Stewart (55-897-8), Austin Kirk (34-440-6) and Matt Watson (24-296-0) throughout the season.

“Stopping the run is always our biggest challenge, but the difference this week is they’ve got some guys who can catch it,” Boyd said. “The quarterback does a good job, but they catch everything, it looks like to us. We have to make them throw it and be able to cover it once they do.”

After allowing a 75-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the first two minutes last Friday against Dallas Pinkston, the Tigers controlled the tempo of the game en route to a 47-18 bi-district whipping.

On Saturday Henigan would like to see his team play like it did against the Vikings — with the exception of the big play, of course.

“That’s the one thing we need to work on, is eliminating the big play and making sure people earn their points,” he said. “This time of year, everybody’s talented. You’ve got to get in games and make fewer mistakes; that’s our big focus. It’s the self-inflicted wounds — the assignment errors, the busted coverages, the poor angles, the drops, the turnovers — all that stuff that we can take care of.

“The team that makes the fewest mistakes is going to win the game. If you eliminate those, a lot of good things can happen.”

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Joel Weckerly may be contacted via e-mail at jweckerly@corsicanadailysun.com

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