By TONY EIERDAM
Palo Pinto County schools Gordon and Strawn enter the third round of their respective divisions today in the six man football playoffs.
Gordon (9-3) will face athletic Santa Anna (11-1) at 7:30 p.m. in the Division I state quarterfinals at Comanche, while Strawn (11-1) faces talented Newcastle (8-4) at 7:30 p.m. at Cisco in a Division II state quarterfinal contest.
Gordon’s main focus will be on Santa Anna spread back Michael Valencia, who Longhorns head coach Shane Mallory calls “a superb athlete with unbelievable speed.”
Valencia is the bell cow of the Mountaineers’ offense. He has rushed for 2,693 yards on 174 carries for a remarkable average of 224 rushing yards per game. That total also includes 42 rushing touchdowns. He has completed 43 of 65 passes for 872 yards and 25 touchdowns.
Mallory said the Mountaineers’ offense is predictable in one area.
“They are a sweep-oriented offense, and they use their speed and athleticism very well,” Mallory said. “Valencia is a legit spread back, and he makes people look slow.
“We will have to try and bottle him up – cut the field in half by being disciplined in our lanes – and stay close to the receivers.”
Santa Anna, Mallory observed, will send two or three receivers down field on every play, including running plays. The Mountaineers want its opponents to cover the receivers, leaving Valencia with only three defenders to beat.
“If you cover the receivers, he will get loose,” Mallory said. “But we want to play disciplined enough to force him into a corner. But a lot of teams have tried that, and Valencia always has a safety valve (receiver) on each play. If you try to stop him he will simply dump off a pass to a safety valve or throw it down field.
“The key for us is to try and stop him with our front. We have been preparing for him the past few weeks, knowing we would probably face them in this round.
“We will have to cut the field down and keep him in front of us. He is as good of a spread back as I have ever seen.”
Strawn is facing a team it defeated 54-8 on Oct. 5. But Greyhounds head coach Dewayne Lee realizes Newcastle, which reached the state semifinals last year, is a different team now.
The ‘Cats are led offensively by running back Michael Moreno, who has rushed for 1,446 yards and scored 28 touchdowns.
“Newcastle is a very talented and athletic team, and Moreno and Tyler Mays are extremely good athletes who make a difference for them,” Lee said. “We played them earlier in the year, but they had some injury problems.
“Coach (Ty) Spitzer is one of the best coaches around, and he always has his team ready to play, and they get after you.”
Lee, whose team rose to the occasion last week defensively by allowing just eight points, feels the ‘Hounds are where they need to be at this time of year.
“Our team is playing with a lot of emotion right now,” Lee said. “We are getting better each week, and this is the time of the year to get better.
“The same with Newcastle. Like us, they are also getting better each game and peaking at the right time.”
Lee feels the postseason annually brings out the best in Strawn players.
“We are at a point in the season when all of the teams are very good,” Lee said. “The key to winning games this deep in the playoffs is to make the fewest mistakes.
“It is difficult to win this deep in the postseason, but we usually get the best out of our players at this time of the season.”
By TONY EIERDAM
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