Only a handful of teams across Texas can claim to have first-round playoff success like Stephenville.
The Yellow Jackets, who are entering the postseason for the 21st time in 22 years dating back to 1989, are 18-2 in their last 20 playoff openers. Their only bi-district losses during that stretch were to Fort Worth Dunbar in 2001 and Wichita Falls Rider in 2004.
Stephenville (5-5) aims for its sixth straight bi-district title against Crowley (5-5) tonight. Kickoff at Weatherford's Kangaroo Stadium is set for 7:30 p.m. with the winner moving on to face either Springtown or Fort Worth Southwest.
"I guess we've had a lot of good draws," says a chuckling third-year Stephenville head coach Joseph Gillespie, who is 2-2 in openers since taking over at his alma mater. "Really, it's the time of year you have to be playing your best football and we've traditionally done a good job of that.
"When you've been there several years in a row you grow accustomed to what it takes," he continued. "Sometimes we've been fortunate to run into some teams who may not have been there before and we've been able to take advantage of the situation."
No current Crowley varsity players have been there before. The Eagles missed the playoffs when they shared a district with Stephenville in 2008 and 2009. But Gillespie warns this is a dangerous Crowley team.
"From an athletic standpoint they are the same they have always been," Gillespie said. "The last couple years we've been fortunate to run into them in week 10 and they were already eliminated from getting into the playoffs and didn't really have much to play for. Obviously this time around they have everything to play for just like we do."
The Eagles enter the contest on the heels of a 55-47 loss to Burleson, but won four straight before that, including 20-7 over Arlington Seguin and 33-31 over Granbury, the two key wins that have them headed to the playoffs.
Crowley quarterback Sean Flynn leads the team in both passing and rushing. He was 79-140 (56.4 percent) passing for 1,363 yards and 10 scores during the regular season, while rushing 134 times for 814 yards and 11 TDs.
Joining Flynn in the backfield is Larry Cheeks, who has picked up 727 yards on 121 carries. Both Cheeks and Flynn average just more than six yards per rush.
Flynn's favorite target through the air is LaBradford Harold, a track star who has caught just 20 passes but turned them into 464 yards and five scores.
The Eagles averaged 372.9 yards per game in the regular season, rushing for 235.1 and passing for 137.8.
Defense has been Crowley's downfall, as the Eagles are surrendering 32.8 points per contest. Four opponents - Arlington Sam Houston, Birdville, Everman and Burleson - hung 50 on the Eagles.
Stephenville counters that with an average of 30.8 points per game, including 40 points or more four times in its last five outings.
The Yellow Jackets average 433.9 yards per game, 224.9 on the ground and 209 through the air.
Aiavion Edwards leads the offense rushing for 1,291 yards on 201 carries, an average of 6.4 yards per attempt. He has fumbled just three times and only one has has resulted in a turnover.
The junior also has 29 receptions for 237 yards and a score and six kickoff returns for 144 yards and another TD. Throw in a 35-yard interception return for a score when he was still in the secondary full time early in the season, and it all equals 1,717 all-purpose yards and 20 TDs on 237 touches.
Quarterback Connor Washington, another junior, is 179-317 (56.5 percent) passing for 2,028 yards and eight touchdowns but has also been picked off eight times. He's tallied another 307 yards on 60 carries.
Washington spreads the wealth, distributing at least 30 completions to three different players. Witt Westbrook, only a sophomore, has 49 receptions for 642 yards while Gabe Barrios has 37 for 518 and Trent Morrison has 34 for 389. Barrios and Morrison each have three TDs and Westbrook has two.
Leading the way defensively are inside linebackers Padyn Giebler and Jared Slemmons. Giebler passed Slemmons for the team lead in tackles last week because he made 13.5 while Slemmons was out because of a concussion suffered the previous week. Giebler has 81.5 tackles on the season, while Slemmons has 79 to go with 11 tackles for loss and an impressive 8.5 sacks.
Junior nose guard Russell Cole leads in tackles for loss with 24 and also has 2.5 sacks to go with a team-best three hurries.
Outside linebacker Dominick Jokel has 51.5 tackles on the season while safety Holton Westbrook has 49.5.
Stephenville is surrendering a respectable 22.9 points per game, a number that doesn't begin to tell the story of the Yellow Jacket defense.
Two of Waco's three touchdowns in last week's 41-21 Stephenville win came on special teams. The defense allowed only one score.
That's been a recurring theme with Killeen scoring once on defense and Mesquite Horn finding the end zone on both a kickoff return and a fumble return. San Angelo Lake View's only TD came in garbage time of a blowout.
Over its last seven games, the Stephenville's first-team defense has allowed only 13 touchdowns. Most of those come on big plays, with few coming on long drives.
"We have to eliminate the big play and allow any cheap scores," Gillespie said. "Not many teams are capable of going on long drives against us. When we take away the big plays our defense has done a great job."
Gillespie says turnovers and special teams, as always, will also play a major role.
In the playoffs those things, and everything really, are magnified because every play means so much. One big mistake in any area could be the end of your season.
In first round games at least, Stephenville has usually been able to avoid such miscues.
If the Jackets can avoid them again tonight, they'll be making room in the trophy case for yet another bi-district championship trophy.