Stephenville is one win away from guaranteeing itself a trip to the state football playoffs for the 20th time in 21 years.
Granbury, on the other hand, is desperately seeking a way to end its school record 23-game losing streak.
The Yellow Jackets (5-2, 4-0) visit Granbury (0-7, 0-4) in District 8-4A play at 7:30 p.m. at Pirate Stadium.
Stephenville is coming off what was easily its biggest win of the season, a 44-17 defeat of Everman, which had previously knocked off the Yellow Jackets in four straight meetings including last year’s Class 4A Division II Region I championship.
Head coach Joseph Gillespie now has the task of preventing his team from overlooking an opponent that hasn’t won since week four of the 2007 season and is already assured of completing the worst three-year span in school history.
“It’s human nature (to prepare harder for big games), I’m not going to lie,” Gillespie said. “It’s easier for the coaching staff to fire a team up for an opponent like Everman than it is for a team like Granbury. But we’re approaching this week as a chance to clinch a playoff spot. Mathematically there are still variables in place that could keep us from getting (to the playoffs) and we want to erase those variables.”
Gillespie also expects Granbury to be at its best Friday.
“I think it’s a rivalry-type ball game because of the proximity of the two communities. A lot of the kids know each other. There’s even a set of cousins going against each other (see related story),” Gillespie said. “I think you can look at Granbury playing Stephenville now a lot like you could look at Stephenville playing Brownwood back in the 80s. We were struggling then, but you always knew Stephenville would play its best and make it a dog fight. That’s what we expect from Granbury. They sure aren’t going to roll over for us, I know that.”
Granbury has had opportunities to get its first win, staying close in games against opponents that blew the Pirates out a year ago.
“If you look at how they’ve played they are significantly better than last year,” Gillespie said. “It hasn’t worked out for them in the ‘W’ column, but they had an opportunity to beat Timberview (24-17) and Crowley (8-0) and they gave (Arlington) Seguin (24-9) a good game. The only score that’s deceiving is last week against (Mansfield) Legacy (35-3). Legacy just jumped out quick because they scored on the game’s first play and (the Pirates) didn’t have their starting quarterback.”
That starting quarterback is Drew Mainini, and Gillespie expects him to play tonight.
“He had a high ankle sprain,” Gillespie said. “He suited up and went through warmups and everything last week, but when the game started he didn’t go out there.”
Stephenville is focusing not only on Granbury, but on rounding into playoff form as well. Gillespie has said all year that week eight or nine is when a team should be starting to look like it’s at playoff caliber.
“Our whole main focus and goal remains the same and that is to put more quality minutes together each week,” he said.
Enough quality minutes this week could allow the Jackets to reach some individual superlatives as James Myles needs 147 yards to reach 1,000 for the year. He has run for more than 150 each of the last three weeks and topped the 200-yard mark in all-purpose yards in both the last two games.
Connor Washington is closing in on 1,500 passing yards in his first season as the Jackets’ trigger puller. He currently has 1,283. Washington is 97-163 passing for an impressive completion percentage of 60.7. He was 17-22 last week for 77.3 percent.
Defensively the Jackets have been playing playoff-caliber football for a number of weeks, allowing just 7.4 points per contest during their current five-game win streak. They held Everman to 19 points and more than 100 yards below its season average entering last Friday’s contest.
“We’ve established an identity about ourselves, but make no mistake about it, there are still things we can do to improve. That’s what we’ve worked on this week, and every week,” Gillespie said.
For the last five weeks, those improvements have meant a “W” each time. A win tonight would be the Jackets’ sixth straight. More importantly, it would mean a sixth straight trip to the playoffs.