Joe Gillespie did not want a bye the last week of the regular season. He was afraid it might detract from his club's preparation for the state playoffs.
But that was in February, when he had no idea how the season would unfurl. Now that the week 10 bye is here, Gillespie has changed his tune.
"Now I'm glad we have this week off, it ended up being a blessing," said the fifth-year head coach. "We've gotten pretty banged up the last few weeks, and now we have an opportunity to let some of those guys have an extra week to heal before we begin the third and most important part of our season."
The "third season" begins next week when Stephenville opens play in the 3A Division I playoffs, likely against Burnet at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16, at Waco ISD Stadium. Burnet will be the opponent unless the Bulldogs miss the playoffs, which can only happen if they lose at home to struggling Lampasas and Liberty Hill goes on the road and upsets unbeaten District 8-3A champ Gatesville. That unlikely combination of upsets would leave Burnet on the outside looking in and make Brownwood 8-3A's Division I playoff representative and Stephenville's first round opponent.
So while the Yellow Jackets have an extra week to allow injured players such as linebacker Sam Macklin and offensive tackle Raul Rocha added recovery time, many teams across the state are still battling for playoff spots.
"It is nice to be off and already know where you're going as far as the playoffs are concerned," Gillespie said. "That, and we already pretty much know who we'll be playing, so there's plenty of time to get ready."
Burnet upset Stephenville in the opening round of the 7-on-7 state tournament in July, and the word "revenge" already appears to have made its way through camp Yellow Jacket. With 7-on-7 just a memory now, the Bulldogs have gone 4-5 so far in the regular season, including 2-2 in 8-3A.
Stephenville finished its best regular season under Gillespie, at least according to win percentage, with last week's 63-13 thumping of Hillsboro. The Yellow Jackets are 8-1, with Gillespie's previous top regular season mark being 8-2 in 2009. Stephenville has won eight straight games and can equal its longest win streak under Gillespie - also in 2009 - with a bi-district playoff win next week.
Stephenville outscored its regular season opponents 40.7-19.2 this fall, and averaged 417.8 yard per game. The offensive attack was led by quarterback Tyler Jones, a 67 percent passer who has thrown for 2,128 yards and 22 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He also rushed for 503 yards and 11 scores and caught a touchdown pass on a trick play. Jones never turned the ball over during district.
Brice Gunter is closing in on 2,000 career receiving yards after hauling in 51 passes for 693 yards and eight touchdowns on the season. The leading rusher is Witt Westbrook with 778 yards and nine TDs on 131 carries. He averages 5.9 yards per rush.
The Yellow Jacket defense was paced throughout the regular season by defensive ends Chase Varnado and Jonah Noah. They each posted career highs in tackles for loss last week, with seven and four, respectively. Varnado, a senior, finished the regular season with 81 tackles, nine sacks and 30 tackles for loss, while Noah, a junior, had 64 tackles, eight sacks and 21 tackles for loss.
If Stephenville advances past the opening round, there are still a number of possible scenarios concerning an area-round opponent. It looks like the Jackets would face the winner of Graham and either Lake Worth or Kennedale. No. 2 Abilene Wylie is the favorite to meet Stephenville in the Region I final in round three.