There will be no strangers on the gridiron tonight when Stephenville (10-1) faces off with Wichita Falls Rider (10-1) in the Region I area round of the Class 4A Division 2 football playoffs at 7:30 p.m. tonight at Northwest ISD Stadium in Justin.
The Yellow Jackets and Raiders, two of Texas' top-tier 4A contenders, have danced to this tune before.
Rider eliminated Stephenville from the postseason in both 2004 and 2006, but the Jackets picked up regular season victories over Rider during week three this year and last season.
Stephenville Head Coach Chad Morris said before the regular season meeting that he felt it wouldn't be the last time his team would face Rider this season.
“We knew it was inevitable. It wasn't so much a matter of if we would see them again, but a matter of when,” Morris said Tuesday.
Both teams have achieved their initial goals of making it to the postseason and having something to practice for on Thanksgiving morning.
“Our first goal is to make the playoffs,” explained Morris. “After that our next big goal is to be practicing on Thanksgiving morning. Not too many high school kids across the state get to experience that magic feeling.”
With the playoff qualifying and Turkey Day practice behind them, both teams are now ready to get down to the business at hand.
Stephenville finished as runners-up in District 8-4A, while Rider was crowned champs in District 5.
The Yellow Jackets destroyed Fort Worth O.D. Wyatt 56-21 in bi-district play after jumping out to a 43-0 lead.
Rider took its time pulling away from Springtown in round one. The game was tied 7-7 at halftime before Rider exploded for 35 second half points in a 42-14 win.
Both teams have been ranked in the top five in the Associated Press poll for much of the season. Stephenville dropped Rider from the top five after dominating the second half of a 27-15 regular season defeat of the Raiders. Rider is back at No. 5 now, while Stephenville dropped from No. 1 to No. 7 in its loss to undefeated Everman two weeks ago.
Both teams come in with injuries, but Morris says that is normal after 11 games.
“I think everyone will play,” he stated. “In a game of this magnitude, somebody is going to have eight months to recover.”
Rider running back Damien Washington did not play in the second half last week after dislocating his shoulder in the second quarter. Morris believes the Rider coaches kept Washington out for precautionary reasons.
That same feeling of caution kept Stephenville from playing Cody Davis and Brad Mills last week. Davis went down with a deep knee bruise against Everman and did not return. He was held out last week against Wyatt, as was Mills who sprained an ankle against Mineral Wells and missed the Jackets' battle with Crowley. The junior returned for only five carries in Everman and did not play against Wyatt.
Middle linebacker Colt Diffey, who leads the Jackets in tackles this season, suffered a leg injury in bi-district play and missed the second half. Morris said Diffie will start tonight.
The winner of tonight's battle advances to face either El Paso Austin or Lubbock Coronado in the regional semi-finals next week.
Morris said it is not yet clear where or when that match-up would be held if Stephenville wins tonight.
Brad Keith is the sports editor at the Empire-Tribune. He can be reached at (254) 965-3124, ext. 241, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.