Part of Mildred’s success a year ago stemmed from a group of seniors groomed in Patrick Harvell’s program. It was his fourth year at the helm, their fourth year under him, and expectations loomed large.
A year later, it’s a similar situation being played out in Nocona. Brad Keck is in his fourth year at the school, he’s got a senior-laden group, most of whom are three-year starters, and the Indians are rewriting school history.
“We’ve got quite a bit of varsity experience, and a little bit of playoff experience,” Keck said. “This is the group for us right now.”
And Friday represents a cross roads for two up-and-coming programs. Mildred (11-1) faces Nocona (12-0) at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Aledo in the Region II-2A finals. The winner gets to advance its program’s history, moving on to the Class 2A Division II state semifinals against the Sonora-Colorado City winner.
In the same scenario last year, Mildred moved on, continuing an undefeated season and the school’s best ever. Nocona hopes to do the same. The Indians have already set the school record for wins (12) with last week’s 15-13 victory over Gunter, and it’s also the furthest the program has been in the playoffs.
The next step won’t be easy for either school.
“As Nick Saban says, ‘it’s old fashioned football,’” Harvell said of Nocona. The Indians run the ball, and do so well behind a seasoned, big offensive line and senior tailback Tate Fenoglio, who has 2,074 yards and 20 touchdowns. Defensively, they play sound as well, and are sure tacklers, Harvell said.
Armchair quarterbacks seem to peg Mildred as passing-first team. That’s the type of reputation you get when a guy like Iowa-bound quarterback Nic Shimonek (2,167 yards, 30 TDs) leads your offense. But Keck sees a different test for his club, moving the football against Mildred’s defense (allowing 11.3 points per game) and slowing its running game.
“They’re dang good,” Keck said, “but this time of year, all you see is good teams.”
Keck went down the list on defense. Really good defensive line, solid secondary, roving linebackers.
“I don’t know if they have any weaknesses,” he said.
As for the offense?
“Obviously, the kid we’ve heard about from Day 1 is (Shimonek). We knew he was going DI,” Keck said. “But you start watching them, and it’s, ‘The running back’s really good, too.’
“They’re not one dimensional. They can do so many things.”
Harvell warns not to get enamored with Nocona’s run game solely. It is true that Fenoglio makes them go. Keck calls him a good athlete with great work ethic and vision.
The Indians do average 96.8 yards per game in the air, though. Senior quarterback Hayden Hill was 7 of 13 for 108 yards and a touchdown last week, only his seventh of the year.
Teams can’t go to sleep on the pass, Harvell said. Mildred should know that as much as anyone. In the team’s only loss, 70-22 Sept. 7 at Centerville, the run-heavy Tigers were 5 of 5 for 135 yards and two touchdowns.
“(Hill) does a good job of running the ball,” Harvell said, “but when he has to pass, he’s very accurate.”
The Indians’ win over Gunter was sloppy, Keck said. His team had 13 penalties and three turnovers. Mildred had 11 penalties last week in a more convincing 44-14 win over Clarksville.
“It comes down to being disciplined and reading keys,” Harvell said. “... This time of year, you’ve got to win the turnover battle and limit your penalties.”
Mildred vs. Nocona
Region II-2A DII Finals
7:30 p.m., Friday, Aledo’s Bearcat Stadium
Players to Watch: Mildred — QB Nic Shimonek, RB/S Draylon Sterling, L Noah Pennell, L Thomas Finigmow, RB/CB Jeremy Ballard, WR/LB Mikey Muncy. Nocona — RB/S Tate Fenoglio, QB/QB Hayden Hill, L Jesse Salgado, RB/S Bryce Dingler, TE/LB Edward Cardoza, FB/LB Tyler Gay.
11-1 Record 12-0
6-2A District 5-2A
56.8 Points Per Game 33.5
11.3 Points Allowed Per Game 12.3
293.3 Rushing Yards Per Game 324.9
168.2 Rushing Yards Allowed n/a
180.6 Passing Yards Per Game 96.8
65.1 Passing Yards Allowed n/a
Sterling (1,784, 32 TDs) Rushing Fenoglio (2,074, 20 TDs)
Shimonek (2,167, 30 TDs) Passing Hill (875, 7 TDs)
Muncy (673, 10 TDs) Receiving Cardoza (412, 8 TDs)
Sterling (101) Tackles Dingler (106)
Ballard (11) Interceptions Hill, Fenoglio (5)
Road to Aledo
Bye Bi-district Bye
Def. Cooper, 38-14 Area Def. Edgewood, 40-23
Def. Clarksville, 44-14 Regionals Def. Gunter, 15-13