The Tigers have enjoyed two weeks of getting healthy and putting in extra work on the practice field as they get ready for the five most important games of the season — the District 16-4A schedule.
That’s a good thing because it’s not an easy beginning. After playing a brutal non-district schedule that included Class 5A Denton Ryan and rival Waxahachie, the Tigers (1-4) begin district against the state’s No. 3-ranked team, Tyler John Tyler (4-1).
It’s a daunting task, as was expected when UIL realignment was announced in the spring.
“They’re the best team we’ve seen,” said Castles of the Lions, who just like the Tigers reached the state semifinals last season.
Castles went on to say that in his 44 games as the Tigers’ coach, he puts John Tyler in the Top 3 teams Corsicana has played. The Lions join an elite group that includes 2011 state champion Aledo — which ended the Tigers season last year — and the 2009 Waco Midway Panthers.
Midway was ranked No. 3 in the state in Castles’ first season when Corsicana pulled off a huge upset at Floyd Casey Stadium. Can Castles and the Tigers do it again Friday night at Tiger Stadium?
The Tigers, who will have to play their best game to date, should be healed up from non-district. And the extra work the offense has put in with quarterback Zach Rash also should help Corsicana against a solid Tyler defense.
“Our kids have worked hard,” Castles said. “They have positive attitudes. It’s a brand new season.”
The Tiger defense needs to be fresh and ready against a talented John Tyler offense that averages 26.4 points. That might not sound like an explosive group, but don’t be fooled. One rival coach said this summer that John Tyler is “DeSoto East,” comparing the Lions to the state’s No. 2 5A team.
Tyler has an array of offensive weapons from senior quarterback Greg Ward, who has verbally committed to Houston, and receiver Fred Ross, committed to Oklahoma State.
It doesn’t stop there. There’s Dequante Woods at receiver. Darion Flowers is a standout wideout and defensive back. Tyus Bowser plays receiver and defensive end. Jeremy Wilson and Reggie Gipson are dangerous running backs and can catch passes too.
“Ross is one of the best receivers in the state,” Tyler coach Ricklan Holmes said. “And he’s not the only one. Flowers, Wiggins, Woods, Gipson. They give a lot of different options for Greg.”
Tyler hasn’t missed a step after Holmes took over as head coach in May for Dereck Rush, who departed for Conroe Oakridge. Holmes, who was on the Lions’ staff, said Rush helped prepare him for this moment.
Tyler did lose to No. 2 Lancaster 26-21 in early September on the road, so the Tigers can be optimistic about that. But Holmes also benched two players by his own decision for that game to send his entire team a message.
Tyler has responded with wins over Tyler Lee, Mesquite Horn and Nuevo Leon, Mexico.
“We’re doing all of the things we need to be doing at this time to win a district championship,” Holmes said. “We’ve shown improvement. We’re getting ready for a tough stretch of district games.”
The Tigers will need a big effort on defense. Defensive end Jarrett Hall and linebackers Jacob Grayson and Cedric Weaver have to keep making plays. Linebacker D’Eriq Jordan needs to keep up his improvement. And so on.
Corsicana played in a nine-team district the last two years, so it’s strange that the second week in October brings a game that truly matters. It’s been odd for the coaches and the players, but they say they’re ready.
“It doesn’t seem possible that we haven’t started district,” Castles said.
It’s here now.
Hubbard at Frost
7:30 p.m. Friday
At Joe Parum Field
RECORDS: Class 1A Hubbard is 4-2, 0-0 in District 9-1A DII. Frost is 6-0, 0-0.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Hubbard: QB Casen Martin, FB Trey Henderson, TB Logan McClinton, LB Jordan Johnson, WR/CB Casey Jones. Frost: QB Jacob Stroder, RB/LB Danial Steels, RB/LB Woody Woods, RB Robert Worley, DL Maliko Bruce.
When Hubbard has the ball …
The Jaguars can grind it out on offense and beat you with the big play. Hubbard averages 307 yards per game and scores 26.5 points a game. The Jaguars’ big-play threat hinges on tailback Bradley Walker, who has missed most of the season with a high ankle sprain but should play Friday. Henderson has turned in a huge non-district season with 834 yards and five TDs. McClinton has shifted from wide receiver to tailback in Walker’s absence. The Polar Bears’ defense starts up front with Bruce, who has a knack for penetrating the line. Stroder leads the Bears with five interceptions. Woods has 41 tackles.
When Frost has the ball …
The Polar Bears are much like Hubbard — they want to go heavy with the running game but can beat you through the air. Steels is the big-play threat with 851 yards and 15 TDs. But look out for Worley and Woods, who both average more than 7 yards per carry and have combined for nine TDs. Stroder has passed for 377 yards and five TDs. He’ll mix it around to his backs and wide receiver Josh Riojas (four receptions, 102 yards). Hubbard leads the area in defense, allowing 12 points and 172 yards per game. Johnson was all over the field in the Jaguars’ 24-8 win over Kerens and has 80 tackles. Jones not only is an interception machine but is a threat to score on defense every time he picks off a pass.
Henderson gives Hubbard the physical ability to pound the ball at opponents and should be a big factor even with Walker back in the lineup. Worley is the key to stopping the Polar Bears. He likes to run between the tackles and he’s a tough runner who can soften up the outside for Steels.
Frost isn’t a fluke. The Polar Bears have earned their 6-0 start being efficient on offense and playing solid defense. Hubbard was the district title pick, and while the Jaguars have lost twice, they’ve played high quality opponents and wins over Kerens and Italy are impressive. Hubbard’s defense also has been exceptional, dealing with nine turnovers in the Jaguars’ two losses and still allowing 171 yards per game. Walker is the x-factor. He should play more this week, which gives the Jaguars a slight advantage. Hubbard 34, Frost 21.
— Todd Wills