A lot of teams are tuning up for district play this week.
Hubbard and Kerens are tuning up for the playoffs.
“It is more like a playoff game atmosphere,’’ said Hubbard coach Craig Horn, whose team faces Kerens at Corsicana’s Tiger Stadium Friday night. “It’s the kind of game we like to play. Our kids love to play in games like this. Kerens is one of the best teams we will play (in the regular season) and the most athletic team we have played.’’
This game is different — in just about every way.
Call it the Corsicana Bowl, because folks from Kerens and Hubbard will be coming to Corsicana on Friday night to watch what is turning into an annual event. It started last season when Kerens coach Russell Anderson talked to the Corsicana about having the game at the neutral site in Tiger Stadium, which not only has artificial turf but a seating capacity of 10,001.
The best thing about the game?
“The atmosphere,’’ said Anderson, who is good friends with the athletic director and others at Corsicana. “This is our second year. Corsicana had a bye week and I happen to be good friends with the athletic director at Corsicana. We talked about doing this and played the first game last year.’’
It was a success with both towns and they’re back for the sequel on Friday in what promises to be on of the best games of the year. Both teams are loaded with talent and both have aspirations of making deep runs in the playoffs, and this game has the look and the feel of a playoff game.
“I think it’s a great deal,’’ Horn said. “We’re playing on a neutral field, playing on turf and we’re playing a team that year-in and year-out is in the playoffs. The kids are excited about this game.’’
Hubbard has battled injuries, but the Jags haven’t slowed down and are 4-1 with their only setback coming in a one-point loss on the road in overtime to state-ranked Bosqueville. Kerens is 3-2 and both losses have come to bigger schools, including Class 2A power Malakoff in the Battle of the River game.
“You can throw out those records,’’ Horn said of Kerens. “Their record is not a reflection of what they’re doing. They’re playing old rivals that have grown. Malakoff is two or three times bigger than Kerens, but it’s a rivalry game so they play it. At some point you have to sit down and evaluate those rivalry games.’’
Horn said there’s a nice rivalry between Hubbard and Kerens.
“The older folks in town consider it a rivalry,’’ Horn said. “And our kids are chomping at the bit to play Kerens. They’ve been waiting for a year for this game.’’
Hubbard just likes the feeling of playing a top team.
“Our kids like the competition. Our kids like to compete,’’ Horn said. “They’re really not happy about playing in games where we are winning 40-0 at halftime. It’s not about winning or losing. It’s about getting better. You like to have the meat of your schedule against good teams like Kerens. I like going into a game thinking I can win by two touchdowns or lose by two touchdowns. I’m excited about it. I’m sure Russell is, too. It’s good for both teams.’’
Both coaches and both teams know how playing on a neutral site in a bigger stadium can bring out the best in teams, and they also know this is the final game before their district races start next week. And that’s on everybody’s mind.
Hubbard opens next week against Frost in what will be the biggest game of the season in District 9-1A DII, and Hubbard opens next week against Cayuga at home in the biggest game in District 6-1A DI.
So while both teams want to win Friday, they also realize this game is a tuneup — albeit a tremendous tuneup, complete with a bigger stage and once-a-year atmosphere.
“It’s the last non-district game and it might be bigger if it wasn’t bumping up against the start of the district,’’ Anderson said. ‘They’ve got Frost and we’ve got a big game against Cayuga.’’
It’s a tough test for a final non-district tuneup — for both teams.
“It’s going to be a challenge,’’ Anderson said. “But it seems like we have a big challenge every week. It’s a challenge every week for us.’’
Kerens has had that kind of schedule, but then again, the Bobcats present a challenge to every team they play. They have size and speed and one of the most athletic and talented quarterbacks in this part of the state.
Nate Betts has thrown for 336 yards and five touchdowns and has rushed for 396 (9.2 average) and five more.
“When I look at Kerens I see a very talented team, probably the most talented team we’ve seen. They’ve got size and speed and a real good athletic quarterback,’’ Horn said. “It’s one of those deals where you don’t know what you’re going to get because of their size and athleticism. Italy has a big, physical front, and obviously I’d say Bosqueville is the best team we have played so far, but Kerens is more athletic than Bosqueville. Betts will be the most athletic quarterback we’ve played.’’
Anderson knows Hubbard plays tough and brings it on every play.
“They’re really a good football team. They’re ranked in the top 10,’’ Anderson said. “You want to play people who are good. And this is a great atmosphere for our kids.’’
Anderson said his team has come along this season and pointed to his offensive line and secondary as making the biggest strides.
“Our offensive line has been a pleasant surprise,’’ he said. “We feel real good about our offensive line, and defensively our secondary has been a surprise. Jalon Moss (a junior defensive back) has been a pleasant surprise.’’
That secondary will be going against Braydyn Gillham, a backup quarterback who has played like a star. Gillham, a sophomore, has stepped in to replace Casen Martin, who is still out with a collarbone injury. Hubbard has been hit hard by injuries, but has not slowed down. But the Jags are starting to heal. Horn said tailback Logan McClinton might be back this week.
Martin might return in time for the Frost game, but Hubbard has a bye week after Frost, which would give Martin and the other injured players another week to get better before the stretch run.
This is the game to prpeare both teams fr or that stretch run.
Hubbard vs. Kerens
7:30 p.m. Friday
At Tiger Stadium (Corsicana)
RECORDS: Hubbard 3-1, Kerens 2-2
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Hubbard: QB Braydyn Gillham, FB Trey Henderson, RB Braden Simpson, WR D’Warren Simmons. Kerens: QB Nate Betts, DB Jalon Moss, WR Brett Anderson, RB Rayvon Faulk.
UPDATE: Last year’s meeting was the first at Tiger Stadium, where Hubbard had a grinder, winning 24-8 with long drives ... Henderson gained 122 yards on 25 carries ... Casen Martin, who is out with a collarbone injury had a 59-yard punt return for a TD ... McClinton, who may return this week from an injury, gained 60 yards while filling in at tailback ... Betts threw three interceptions, including two in the second half ... Hubbard leads the Golden Circle in team defense (175 yards per game), scoring offense (239 points) and scoring defense (56 points) ... the game features three of the top five receivers in the Golden Circle in Simmons, Nick Johnson and Kerens’ Anderson (10 for 172 and 2 TDs) ... Betts is the GC’s fourth leading passer (21-38-4, 336 and 5 TDs) and sixth leading rusher (43-396, 9.2 average).