REFUGIO — Defending state champion Refugio (12-0) and No. 2-ranked East Bernard (12-0) will battle it out Friday night in Texas State Stadium at San Marcos in what may be the most anticipated game of the year.
“The guys are looking forward to this game; they’re sky high,” said coach Jason Herring. “This match-up has been penciled in for months. Before the season began, I knew it would be Rogers, Lexington and East Bernard. That’s the gauntlet. We’ve never had this hard of a playoff run.”
The Bobcats say they’re ready.
“If we play like we can, we’ll do good and the team will be real successful,” said John Wesley Shipp, all-state linebacker. “If we show up to play, we’ll do all right.”
Last week, Lexington brought a different game plan to the gridiron than what was expected.
“They completely went against everything they do,” Herring said.
Traditionally, Lexington puts seven players on the line and four in the secondary and suffocates the run. Friday night, they flipped their game strategy. Lexington put six guarding the pass and only five rushing the line.
“Going in, the game plan was a lot like last year,” Herring said. Every film we saw, they had a six in the secondary and five in front.”
The Bobcats stepped up its running game and kept the game close - 14-14 going into the halftime.
“It’s nice to have a group of kids that can adjust and a real knowledgeable coaching staff that can make adjustments,” Herring said. “The bottom line is it’s nice to have kids talented enough to do both because some schools can only run and some can only throw. It’s nice to be a balanced offense.”
Following the game, coach Drew Cox asked Lexington’s head coach why they deviated from their base defense.
“He said Lexington didn’t feel like they could stop Refugio’s rushing game,” Herring said. Coach Cox did most of the adjustments and the kids executed them.”
The kickoff set the tone for the remainder of the game.
Because Lexington is excellent on returns, Bobcat kicker Adolfo Cordero was booting short, high balls during the first half. On the first play of the third quarter, Cordero kicked deep.
Bobcat special teams player Glen Wineman tackled the Lexington ball carrier on the four-yard line. The momentum switched to the Bobcats and never swung back the other way.
“Glen is a back-up receiver and a special teams player,” Herring said. “Special teams is his number one role and he executed it. Very few plays in football can completely grab the momentum like a kickoff. For 17-year-olds, momentum wins the game.”
Following Wineman’s tackle, the defense held Lexington to three downs and they were forced to punt from their own 39.
“If we knew every time we could tackle within the 10, we’d do it every time,” Herring said. “Kickoffs are a calculated risk.”
Rogers, Refugio’s foe in the area round, ran nine kickoffs for touchdowns during their season so Herring’s strategy for short, high kicks worked perfectly.
“When you kick to the 30, you’re usually not kicking to the fastest players,” Herring said. “The kids closer up usually can’t fly and you’re not giving them time to criss-cross and block. We pop it up short and stop the play.”
Last year, during the Cisco state championship game, a kickoff return for a touchdown moved the momentum away from the Bobcats who had built up a nice third-quarter lead.
“We thought we had it for sure up until then,” Herring said.
Hours and hours of field study plays into Herring and his staff’s strategy.
“There’s always method to the madness,” Herring said.
After stopping the kickoff return in the Lexington game, the Bobcats kicked the game into high gear.
“At halftime we had a few adjustments and talked about what was and wasn’t working,” said all-state offensive player Jack Gumm. “Then we ran our Nascar. Playing fast takes its toll on the other team. We’re in good shape.”
Looking toward Friday night’s clash with East Bernard, the Bobcats face a team that has not given up a point in the playoffs and only 66 points in 12 undefeated games.
“Defensively, they pose challenges; it’s a great defense,” Herring said. “We have to limit the big plays and contain the quarterback.”
Among East Bernard’s star players is senior quarterback Ty Slanina, grandson of former Refugio head football coach George Harris.
“We’re practicing good this week,” Gumm said. “I hope we’re more physical. The most physical team will win Friday night.”
Since the Bobcats played in Texas State Bobcat Stadium, several stadium upgrades have been made - new turf, a new field house, new dressing rooms.
“A great stadium and two undefeated teams — it doesn’t get any better than this,” Herring said.
Last week, Herring looked up in the stands in San Antonio. The number of Refugio fans were triple that on the Lexington side.
“We’re trying our best to bring home another championship for the town,” Herring said. “We’re so appreciative of the loyal Bobcat fans.”