When Stephenville (8-2) hits the Burleson Stadium turf for its 4A Division II playoff opener against Fort Worth Polytechnic (6-4) at 7 p.m. tonight, the Yellow Jackets will be looking to advance to the area round of the state playoffs for the 19th time in the last 21 years.
Poly, meanwhile, is just glad to finally be a part of the post season again.
The Parrots are making their first playoff appearance since 1990 despite losing four of their last six games including a 23-8 defeat at the hands of FW Eastern Hills in Disrict 7-4A’s third-place contest last week.
The battle is between two teams whose seasons have followed opposite tracks. Stephenville played a brutal early schedule and began 0-2. Poly mustered up a 4-0 start to the season, albeit against lesser competition.
Since those marks, the Yellow Jackets have gone 8-0 including a 7-0 run through District 8-4A in which they outscored opponents by an average of 29.9 points to win the school’s first outright league title since 2005. The Parrots have gone 2-4 and needed a tiebreaker to land in their favor in order to qualify for the final playoff spot out of 7-4A.
Stephenville, led by the area’s No. 2 rusher in James Myles (227-1,350, 21 TDs) and a defense that is surrendering only 13.3 points per game including just 9.7 in 8-4A play, is the heavy favorite.
“I think anytime you walk away from a district the caliber of ours as district champs, you have to feel good about yourselves,” Stephenville head coach Joseph Gillespie says. “Our kids have a lot of confidence and a belief that we are going to be a tough team to beat.”
But Poly isn’t without weapons. Running back Duran Hollis (132-1,077, 12TDs), who also plays in the secondary, is a NCAA Division I recruit on both sides of the ball. Ditto for quarterback Damien Thornton (100-177-8 passing for 1,245 yards, 10TDs; 94-730 rushing for 13 TDs), possibly the best dual-threat signal caller in North Texas.
“(Hollis) is a pretty special individual, and (Thornton) is too,” Gillespie says. (Thornton) is a good passer, but he’s an even better runner. Both guys can really tote the mail.”
Hollis currently has scholarship offers from Baylor, Iowa State, Iowa, Houston UT-El Paso and Western Kentucky, while Thornton has offers from New Mexico and Baylor, according to a report by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram published on its high school sports Web site dfwvarsity.com.
Gillespie and Poly coach Othell Robinson were both glad to set the first round meeting for a Thursday night.
“Coach Robinson and I both agreed that with another big playoff game next week, playing on Thursday would be advantageous for whoever wins,” Gillespie says. “It gives you an extra day to rest and recover and an extra day to prepare.”
The winner faces either Aledo or Little Elm in an area playoff next week.
If Stephenville and Aledo both win, it is likely - but not confirmed as of Wednesday - they will meet at the new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington on Friday, Nov. 20. It would be a rematch of a game won by host Aledo 20-16 in the season opener for both teams.
If Stephenville and Little Elm win, they will meet in Saginaw next Friday.