By TONY EIERDAM
For the past seven Saturdays during the opening weekend of the regular season in high school football, Hico’s Tiger Stadium has been the host venue for five six-man football games. The annual invitation-only event is called “Super Saturday.”
That event pales in comparison to what Palo Pinto County six man fans are calling the “real Super Saturday” when both state-ranked No. 17 Strawn and No. 15 Gordon play their respective state semifinal games tomorrow in Hico.
The Strawn Greyhounds will face No. 1 Richland Springs at 2 p.m. at Tiger Stadium in a Division II state semifinal, and later that day at 7 p.m. the Gordon Longhorns will play in a Division I state semifinal against No. 12 Abbott.
Playing the No. 1 team in the state, Strawn appears to have the tougher road to next week’s state championship games. However, playing a top-ranked team does not bother Strawn head coach Dewayne Lee.
“To win a state championship you have to play the best teams, and we know we will have to play hard and at our best for four quarters to win,” Lee said. “This will be a fun type of game for us and our fans.”
In 13 games, Richland Springs (13-0) has averaged 66 points a game while holding opponents to 14 points per contest while recording five shutouts. The Coyotes average 802 yards of total offense per game, including an average of 416 yards per contest.
Lee said his team is prepared and eager for the challenge.
“We know who they are, and we also know there is a reason they are ranked No. 1,” Lee said. “Our plan is to do what we can offensively to keep the ball out of their hands as much as possible.
“We aren’t necessarily going to change what we do a lot on offense, but we can’t turn the ball over and we have to limit penalties. But the main goal is to execute and take care of the ball.”
“We have been playing faster, harder and smarter during the playoffs. We have been able top execute our game plans on both offense and defense, and we have been limiting our mistakes.”
Gordon head coach Shane Mallory has seen his ‘Horns improve each week. He said his team will have to play hard from the first whistle to the final gun in order to beat a team of Abbott’s caliber.
“I think we are definitely peaking at the right time,” Mallory said. “In each quarter during the playoffs either our offensive or defensive unit has stepped up. Both the offense and defense have come together and compliment each other.”
Mallory said that after the Longhorns’ tough stretch in non-district play against Ira, No. 1 Richland Springs and Strawn that he knew the team had to improve in the passing game in order to make a deep playoff run.
“After Strawn, we knew we had to throw the ball more,” he said. “From then on we have turned it around. We are hard to defend in the passing game because we have had every starter on offense catch a touchdown pass, and we have had several throw for touchdowns. That makes us hard to defend.
“With multiple receivers and throwers, defenses are playing us a little soft. That works to our advantage, and it opens up our running game.”
Abbott has given up just 49 points in three playoff games, including a shutout. The Panthers gave up just eight points in three District 13 games.
“Abbott is very good on defense, to say the least,” Mallory said. “I honestly haven’t slept well this week.”
Abbott is led offensively by running back Tyler Russell, who gained almost 3,000 yards on the ground last year and has rushed for 2,239 yards on 163 carries with 46 touchdowns this season. Mallory said Abbott runs a simple offense, but runs it extremely well.
“They play power football at its best, and they are huge,” he said. “Russell is an all-state back, and he gets 25-30 touches a game.
“When he goes out of the game they just plug another good back in there. They are very deep. But they have a one-dimensional offense, and we know what they are going to run at us.
“If we can stop them, and we are hoping our speed on defense can do that, then we will be OK. But no one has been able to stop them lately.”
Abbott head coach Trey Crawford feels the game will come down to simple execution and fundamentally-sound blocking and tackling.
“This is a great matchup between two tradition-rich programs,” Crawford said. “Gordon has the long tradition, and we are starting a new tradition.
“As funny as this may sound – considering this is a six-man game – I think the team that plays the best defense will win the game. Good defense wins at this time of the year.
“Gordon is very talented offensively, and we need to somehow find a way to stop them. We just need to execute and not blow any assignments. I think both teams will come in with an attitude and plan of doing what they do well.
“It will come down to which team executes the best and limits mistakes.”
Lee, whose team and Gordon played on “Super Saturday” this past September, feels Hico is the perfect location to host such deep and important playoff games.
“They do a good job of putting on games and promoting six-man football in Hico,” Lee said. “It is exciting for us to be able to play the No. 1 team in the state, and play in Hico again.”