The Stephenville Yellow Jackets played the equivalent of a season and a half last season, but head football coach Greg Winder reminded his Yellow Jackets that there are no guarantees entering the playoffs.
The 6-3 Yellow Jackets are preparing to take on 5-4 Fort Worth Dunbar in their bi-district playoff matchup, with a 7:30 p.m. kickoff Friday at Pirate Stadium in Granbury. While Dunbar was clinching third place with a 20-13 District 6-4A Division I victory over Lake Worth, the Jackets enjoyed a few extra days of rest as their district bye week fell on what was the final week of the regular season schedule.
Dunbar is on a three-game win streak, while the Jackets have won two in a row and four of their last five games.
“It’s playoff time and we’re starting a new season,” Winder said Monday. “Everybody should be excited, and enjoying the moment.”
Winder also said that he reminded his players that, “But if you get beat, you’re gone. You’re not guaranteed anything.”
All three of Stephenville’s losses were to top 10 teams. Argyle and Midlothian Heritage in non-district, along with La Vega in district play, were all among the state’s top 10 squads when they outscored the Jackets.
The Jackets had been a preseason top 10 pick before falling out of the Associated Press rankings because of those losses. They were picked as the state’s No. 3 team in 4A Division behind only Argyle and defending champion Carthage in the preseason by Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine, and were fifth in the preseason coaches state poll.
The Jackets finished the five-team District 5-4A Division I alignment in second place with a 3-1 mark, losing only to La Vega (4-0, 8-2 overall).
The Yellow Jackets completed a remarkable 12-3 season a year ago, when they won four playoff games before being eliminated in the state semifinals by Kennedale.
Gatesville, China Spring and Brownwood all finished tied for third place in the district at 1-3, but Gatesviille finished out of the running for the playoffs as the No. 5 team based on head-to-head matchups. China Spring took third place and will play Benbrook in bi-district. Brownwood made the playoffs as the fourth-place team, and will face Kennedale in the first round.
Dunbar had been picked by Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine to finish second in that district behind Kennedale in the preseason. The Wildcats lost to Dallas Kimball and Celina in non-district, then were defeated in district play by Benbrook and Kennedale.
Other than the 49-27 loss to Celina, the Wildcats’ defense did not give up more than 29 points in any other game this season.
“They run to the football well,” said Winder, in his fourth season as head coach of the team. “They have a lot of athletes on the defensive side of the ball, and get after you.”
The Wildcats will show some defensive fronts with three down linemen, and at times will have four down.
“They like to man-up with the receivers,” Winder noted.
Linebacker Trevon Gray-McCoy is one of the top defensive performers back from last year’s 3-7 Dunbar squad.
On offense, quarterback Leonte Cooper has big-play running ability, and receiver Aaron Cooper also presents a danger.
“They like to run the football a lot,” Winder said. “We’ve got to stop that quarterback — don’t let him scramble.
“I told (our players) that they are a big-play team, so we have to shut them down. They mix it up. They can go 99 yards.”
SHS senior running back Krece Nowak leads the Jackets in rushing for the third year in a row, and is on the verge of surpassing the 1,000-yard mark once again. He has 962 yards on 156 carries (6.2 yards per carry), with six touchdowns.
Junior quarterback Kade Renfro has thrown for 1,252 yards, completing 59 percent of his passes (80 of 134) with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Senior wideout Kyle Lindsey leads the Jackets in receiving with 30 catches for 511 yards and four TDs. Gavin Rountree has 24 receptions for 403 yards and a team-leading nine TDs. Nowak has added 23 catches for 427 yards and three scores coming out of the backfield. That gives Nowak 1,389 yards in total offense.
Senior linebacker Blu Caylor continues to lead the SHS defense in total tackles, with 117. Senior defensive back Gage Graham is next with 100, followed by junior linebacker Quentin Walker with 83.