By Raymond Linex II
What could go wrong seemingly did. Injuries. Turnovers. Infighting. A good old fashioned whooping.
Everything snowballed for Mildred, coach Billy Dan Chambliess said, in the Eagles’ 70-22 loss at Centerville last year. And it was the best thing for a team that had won 11 straight regular season games, and played in the semifinals a year ago and, perhaps, thought it was invincible.
“It helped us in the long run,” said Chambliess, who was the defensive coordinator a year ago when Centerville demolished the No. 9 Eagles, rolling up 513 yards of offense and scoring at least two touchdowns in every quarter.
“It made us find kids who could actually play,” Chambliess continued. “We went from playing 11-12 kids both ways to 17 starters. It made us change a little.”
Centerville was, and still is, a physical team. While the Tigers lost a lot of skilled players, all but the center is back on a line that paved the way to an 11-1 record and one-point, overtime loss in the third round of the playoffs. Centerville likes to pound you into submission with a rugged running game.
The Tigers don’t appear to be hurting in the backfield, despite Tulley Pickens (9-73, TD in a 55-0 win last week) being the only returning starter there. They rushed for 400 yards on 46 carries a week ago.
In some areas, the Tigers are better, coach Kyle Hardee said. In some, not so much. He knows this: his Tigers are not sneaking up on anyone this fall.
“Last year we felt like we had a good team,” Hardee said. “We were coming off a district championship, and we were still picked third in our district.
“Now, our kids have targets on their backs.”
Chambliess would just like to see the Eagles be prepared for the showdown.
Last year, Mildred played without a starter on the line, and lost another two during the game. Not that the Eagles really had anything going with them in the game. Draylon Sterling, who went on to rush for almost 2,000 yards, was held to 15 yards on 10 carries. The game got away from the Eagles early, and it was ugly throughout.
Both emotionally, and with the Xs and Os.
“They caught us in some formations, and would motion and put us out of alignment,” Chambliess said. “We didn’t adjust well. They motioned two or three times, and we didn’t move.”
After the wake-up call, Mildred bounced back and had the school’s finest season, getting to the state finals. Centerville, coming out of the tougher Region III, had to watch a team it beat by 48 play for a title.
“That didn’t bother us at all,” Hardee said.
Last year’s game was a chance for Centerville to gauge its program, he said. They matched up. Well.
Still, the game served the same purpose this year’s game will, Hardee said.
“Obviously, Mildred played it’s second game of the year,” Hardee said. “Fortunately, it’s still just the second game of the year (this year). We’re both just trying to improve and get better.
“Last year, things went our way. We’re not counting on that this year. We think it will be a battle.”
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Centerville at Mildred
7:30 p.m. Friday
At Asby Field
RECORDS: Class 2A DII Centerville is 1-0. Class 2A DII Mildred is 1-0.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Centerville: WB Tulley Pickens, L Kurtis Parker, RB Blake Payne, L Kevin Gonzales. Mildred: QB Will Burnham, L Joe Carrizales, L Keanu Fathal, L Jasper Marshall.
UPDATE: Centerville demolished No. 9 Mildred a year ago, 70-22, handing the Eagles their only regular season loss in two seasons ... the Tigers ran for 378 yards and scored at least 14 points in all four quarters ... both teams ended up having stellar seasons, Mildred making the state finals, Centerville falling 28-27 to Hughes Springs in the third round after a missed PAT in OT ... the Tigers clobbered Grapeland last week, 55-0, while Mildred beat Como-Pickton, 60-0 ... Blake Payne had 73 yards rushing and a TD on 9 carries, and is the younger brother of Ryan Payne, who went 19-182-4 in last year’s game but graduated ... the Tigers ran for 400 yards last week and allowed 16 ... Mildred senior Draylon Sterling scored four TDs last week, giving him 75 for his career ... the Eagles allowed 60 yards and two first downs last week ... both teams garnered votes in the Associated Press poll this week.
— Raymond Linex II