It seems anyone you ask says Stephenville, 7-3, is a heavy favorite against Fort Worth Dunbar, 9-1, in the bi-district round of the Class 4A Division II Region I playoffs at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Burleson.
Dunbar is, after all, a member of Fort Worth ISD, a district that has made lightning quick exits from the state playoffs in recent years.
There’s several reasons, however, that this Dunbar team can’t be overlooked.
Particularly Darius White, a wide receiver who is averaging 27.2 yards per catch after hauling in 15 regular-season touchdown receptions. White led a big second-half effort last week to lift the Wildcats to a 50-21 defeat of Fort Worth Arlington Heights in the District 7-4A championship game last week, finishing with 9 catches for 145 yards.
Dunbar scores 45.4 points per game, and has won its last nine by an average of 37.1 points. The Wildcats’ only loss came in their season opener against undefeated, nationally-ranked Class 5A member Abilene.
The Yellow Jackets, 7-3, have been on a roll themselves, winning seven of their last eight while amassing more than 400 yards of offense in six of those contests. Stephenville posted its most productive outing of the season in terms of yardage last week when quarterback Brad Picha led the offense to 542 yards in a 43-19 defeat of Crowley. The senior signal caller passed for 250 yards, rushed for 35 and had a hand in a career-best six touchdowns.
If Stephenville has one thing in its corner this postseason, it’s experience. Joseph Gillespie may be in his first year as head coach, but the Jackets are in the playoffs for the 19th time in 20 years, including 12 of the 13 seasons he was an assistant. SHS also benefits from a senior class full of heavy hitters.
Brad Mills ran for 174 yards last week to finish the regular season with 1,250 on 198 attempts, an average of 6.3 per carry. He scored 14 touchdowns on the ground. Joining Mills as some of the senior leaders on the Stephenville offense are wide receiver/tight end Josh Graves, who has team-highs in receptions with 46, receiving yards with 541 and receiving touchdowns with seven. Senior Dakota Mathis joins the pass-catching party with 30 catches for 537 yards and three scores, as Picha, also in his final year, is 125-218 through the air for 1,828 yards, 18 touchdowns and only five interceptions.
Stephenville also features a veteran group along the offensive line where all five starters are seniors.
The Jackets have also been on point defensively, with the exception of the occasional big play at least. Crowley ripped off touchdowns of 94, 69 and 58 yards last week, all of which came after Stephenville led 37-0. The longest score was the second 90-plus yard play the “War Dogs” have surrendered this season, the other a play-action “pump-and-go” pass executed by Joshua for a 99-yard touchdown pass. Everman also scored from 99 yards away, but it was on a fumble return, not on offense.
With the exception of the three big plays, Crowley averaged just a hair more than two yards per rushing attempt, spending most of the night under at the bottom of hard tackles by the likes of defensive linemen T.R. Varnado, Josh Emmons and Javier Perez, as well as linebackers Hayden Whiteley, Nate Brady and Dominick Jokel. Another defensive force, and another senior, has been Chris Malone, who also makes plays in all three phases of the game.
The Jackets are surrendering 21.3 points and 255.3 yards per game, with opponents rushing for 136. 3 yards and passing for 119. Not to be outdone, the solid Dunbar defense is giving up only 16.3 points and 248.6 points per game. The Wildcats are surrendering 145.5 rushing yards and 103.1 passing yards on average.
While the numbers may be similar, Stephenville is still favored by most entering the match-up, mostly because of playoff tradition and strength of schedule. Dunbar competes against mostly schools from Fort Worth ISD, which has had no recent playoff success. Stephenville, on the other hand, has lost to Everman and Aledo, both of which are undefeated and ranked in the top five in Class 4A by the Associated Press, and Denton Guyer, which is 8-2 and the top seed from 5-4A in the Division I playoffs.
The winner of Friday’s showdown advances to the area round of the playoffs to face either Wichita Falls Rider, the champion from District 5-4A, or Springtown, the fourth-place finisher in 6-4A. Rider and Springtown meet at 7:30 p.m. tonight in Mineral Wells.