By Todd Wills
Corsicana Daily Sun
FROST — —
Eric Blenden has made sure his Frost Polar Bears are aware they have never lost a playoff game.
Because neither has Friday night’s regional final opponent, defending Class 1A DII state champion Tenaha, which is unbeaten in the last two years in the playoffs.
It’s a strange dynamic to say the least for this Region III-1A DII final Friday in Van. Tenaha (8-4) has a seven-game winning streak going in the state playoffs. Frost has a three-game playoff streak going, but the Polar Bears are in the postseason for the first time since 2001.
“They are still the defending state champions,” Blenden said. “A lot of those guys don’t know what it feels like to lose in the playoffs. They’re 7-0 in the playoffs. But none of our guys have lost in the playoffs either.”
Tenaha is four deep in the playoffs for the third time in six years. But the Tigers are without the star power that carried them last season — quarterback Reginald Davis, who is redshirting this season at Texas Tech.
Still, don’t be lulled to sleep by a four-loss Tenaha team that is averaging six points and 40 yards less than Frost. The Tigers are an explosive offense with three juniors leading the way, quarterback J.R. Hill, running back Chavis Gregory and Keontas Davis.
Hill has passed for 1,268 yards and 15 touchdowns. Gregory has 1,254 rushing yards and 17 TDs. Davis has 42 receptions for 766 yards and 10 TDs.
Tenaha tries to be balanced. The Tigers are 63-37 run-pass.
“We want to throw it as much as we can,” Tenaha coach Terry Ward said. “The run game may be what you need to do. We try to get (all of our weapons) the football.”
The one negative for Hill so far? He’s thrown 17 interceptions in 187 attempts. Frost’s secondary is full of ballhawks. The Polar Bears have 21 interceptions in 13 games.
In fact, turnovers — not surprisingly — likely will swing Friday night’s game. Frost has a plus-21 turnover ratio for the season, and has won the battle in all three of their playoff games.
Blenden was frustrated by two fumbles in last Friday’s 38-14 victory over Mount Enterprise, one with Frost going in for a score at the 2-yard line and another late in the game when the Polar Bears were trying to run out the clock.
“We could have ended the game if we would have handled ourselves down their on the goal line,” Blenden said. “The fumbles didn’t hurt us, but we need to clean it up.”
Frost’s defense as a whole has played great in the postseason. The Polar Bears have allowed 14 points twice and 12 points once. Defensive coordinator Heath Blalock has done a standout job of having his guys ready.
“Coach Blalock is doing a great job of scheming things up,” Blenden said. “And our guys are doing their assignments.”
Frost has slowed down a speed-influenced offense in Chilton and a Wing T offense like last week against Mount Enterprise. Blalock made a slight adjustment in the first half against Mount Enterprise, and it made a big difference.
“He’s doing a good job with those guys,” Ward said of Blenden and his coaching staff. “They’re very well coached. They give 100 percent effort. It looks like they’re playing with a lot of confidence.”
Tenaha is making its living on defense in the playoffs. The Tigers have allowed 15 points in two postseason games, a combined total that is under the 18.2 points Tenaha yields per game.
The Tigers have forced nine turnovers, three of them returned for touchdowns (two on interceptions and one on a fumble).
“We have found our identity,” Ward said. “It’s taken us a while. We’ve taken some lumps. We’re very young. We’re hanging our hat on defense. The last four weeks we’ve played good defense.”
Tenaha has seen the Wing T this year — the Tigers lost to Joaquin 22-6 in the opener. Frost’s running game has been brilliant all season with the Bears averaging 322.8 yards per game. The three-back combo of Danial Steels, Robert Worley and Woody Woods has been dominant.
“It’s not new,” Ward said of facing Frost’s offense, “But that doesn’t mean we’re going to have success stopping it.”
Tenaha has the tradition — the Tigers last played a playoff game in Van four years ago, losing 25-22 to Mart.
Frost has the advantage when it comes to a common opponent — Tenaha only beat district opponent Mount Enterprise 35-32 in the regular season.
“We have pretty good tradition here,” Ward said. “It was here before I got here. Our older guys believe they’re supposed to win and the younger guys get more practice time with the extra playoff weeks.”
Ward expects a tough game. Frost and Tenaha each will put six-game winning streaks on the line Friday night.
“Both teams are peaking at the right time,” he said.
Frost vs. Tenaha
Region III-1A DII Final
7:30 p.m., Friday, Van Memorial Stadium
Players to Watch: Frost — QB/FS Jacob Stroder, RB/LB Danial Steels, OL/DL Cody McGill, NG Maliko Bruce, WR/CB Josh Riojas. Tenaha — RB/OLB Chavis Gregory, WR/DB Keontas Davis, OL/LB Deaaron Roland, QB/DB J.R. Hill, RB/ DB Cobe Caraway.
12-1 Record 8-4
9-1A District 11-1A
36.0 Points Per Game 30.7
14.8 Points Allowed Per Game 18.2
322.8 Rushing Yards Per Game 215.2
134.9 Rushing Yards Allowed n/a
57.5 Passing Yards Per Game 124.6
103.3 Passing Yards Allowed n/a
Steels (1,795, 27 TDs) Rushing Gregory (1,254, 17 TDs)
Shimonek (747, 8 TDs) Passing Hill (1,268, 15 TDs)
Riojas (298, 3 TDs) Receiving Davis (766, 10 TDs)
Andrew Jackson (85) Tackles Roland (104)
Stroder (8) Interceptions Davis (7)
Road to Van
Def. Detroit, 28-14 Bi-District Bye
Def. Chilton, 16-12 Area Def. Overton, 42-8
Def. Mt. Enterprise, 38-14 Regional Def. Bremond, 38-7