No. 6 Jackets face Jones, Ozen in classic

BRAD KEITH brad.keith@empiretribune.com
Stephenville's offensive line paved the way for 520 yards of offense when the Yellow Jackets upset 4A No. 2 Aledo 41-28 last week.

Stephenville is certainly seeing a diverse set of early opponents this season, and head coach Joe Gillespie says that will only continue in the coming weeks starting with Saturday's Lone Star Sports High School Football Classic.

The No. 6 Yellow Jackets (1-1) face 4A Beaumont Ozen (1-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Dallas Kincaide Stadium, the first of three games in the Classic that also includes Miami (Fla.) Booker T. Washington against Cedar Hill and Euless Trinity against DeSoto.

"I think we've had two extreme differences from (Monterrey Prepa Tec, Mex.) to Aledo, and now we have a third extreme difference if you can have that with Beaumont Ozen," said Gillespie, who will be going for his 40th win as Stephenville's head coach after improving to 39-16 last week. "We certainly didn't plan it out this way; we were just trying to fill our schedule. But I think it bodes well for us because we're going to see a lot of different looks that are preparing us for different things down the road.

"The things Ozen does, from their people up front to coverage-wise to their blitzes, is quite a bit different than what we've seen to this point," he added.

Gillespie's 3A club is coming off an emotionally-charged 41-28 thumping of 4A No. 2 Aledo - the three time defending champ in 4A Division II. He said the full-pads, full-bore practices leading up to the upset continued this week.

"There was obviously a lot of room for improvement after we played Monterrey Tec, and we made some vast improvements over the course of the next week," Gillespie said. "There is still room to improve, but not as much room for improvement as there was last week. The only way I know to keep getting better is hard work, so that's what we'll do. We're practicing the same way this week as we did for Aledo."

Gillespie also made it clear the season is about much more than beating Aledo.

"We didn't just set out to beat Aledo and that's our season; that was just a very short term goal," he said. "Don't get me wrong, it left us with a great sense of accomplishment, but now that goal is behind us and we have to move on to our bigger goals that are still ahead."

Beating Ozen wouldn't make the Yellow Jackets' season either, but the Panthers do offer a different look as they built primarily around a do-it-all running back.

Jakobi Jones is versatile running back who is small in stature - 5-foot-7, 155 pounds - but long on talent.

"He's certainly a dual threat running and receiving guy and he's plenty dangerous on special teams," Gillespie said of Jones, who returned Ozen's opening kickoff of the season for a touchdown after rushing for 1,344 yards and 17 TDs last fall. "He already has several long-yardage runs and receiving plays and they've only played two games. He's certainly one of those guys you have to put a lot of focus on."

Ozen passed for more than 400 yards in its season-opening 33-29 win over Beaumont Westbrook, but passed for just 22 as Jones and the ground attack did much of the work in last week's 31-14 loss to Port Arthur Memorial.

"Watching film, you can tell (Memorial) is pretty dang good," Gillespie said. "(Ozen) actually looked better to us in the loss (to Memorial) than in their win (over Westbrook.)"

Ozen improved as the season went along last year, enough so that the Panthers reeled off two playoff wins after a 5-5 regular season. They were eliminated by LaMarque in the 4A Division II regional semifinals, finishing their year 7-6. Six starters return on offense, four on defense.

Gillespie says one of the big questions entering each week is how will opponents line up against Stephenville's stable full of receivers. Senior Brice Gunter drew much of Aledo's attention last week, so sophomore Jarrett Stidham stepped up with 11 receptions for 173 yards and two touchdowns. All quarterback Tyler Jones did was complete 23 of 34 passes for 293 yards and three scores while rushing for 138 and another TD.

"As long as we execute what we do, it's kind of pick your poison," Gillespie said. "It may take us a few possessions from week-to-week to see how someone's going to try and defend us, but we're confident if you load up on somebody we have plenty of other guys we can attack you with."

While it may be a mystery until Saturday how Ozen will elect to defend Stephenville, it's no secret who they'll be defending with. Junior defensive back Tony Brown is expected to be among the state's top recruits in the class of 2014, and they have another NCAA Division I prospect in senior defensive back Raleigh Johnson.

"They have skilled athletes offensively and defensively and they're big up front," Gillespie said. "They have all the physical tools to be a very good football team."

It's also a very different team, one that is a stranger to Stephenville.

"I've been here coaching-wise for 18 years - 13 as an assistant - and we've been fortunate to play a lot of schools - the LaMarques and PNGs (Port Neches-Groves) all the way to the Borgers and the El Paso Parklands - but we've never played Beaumont Ozen," he said. "It's also a new stadium for us. I've always heard how nice Kincaide is, but we've never played there.

"It's also a 1 o'clock game on a Saturday and I think the weather is gong to be nice," he continued. "I like just waking up, getting a bite to eat, getting on the bus and playing football. You don't have to go through the buildup all day, so that's nice. And you want to play a good Saturday afternoon football game because you never know when you might be doing that in the playoffs somewhere down the line."

Notes:

*Advance tickets are on sale at Stephenville High School. Advance prices are $10 for adults and $5 for students. Tickets at gate are $15 and $10, respectively. Parking is $5.

*No district, coaching or other passes will be accepted. All patrons must pay admission.

Follow Brad Keith on Twitter @etsports