When the Denton Guyer Wildcats steamrolled to the Class 4A Division I state semfinals last year after going 1-19 in the previous two seasons -- the program's first two of existence -- they never had to face much adversity.
Guyer was always the underdog, and didn't play with a target on its back, and most importantly never suffered any key injuries in the playoff run after getting starting quarterback J.W. Walsh back in Week 8 of the regular season after missing six games.
This year, however, the Wildcats are completely different -- on all fronts. The Wildcats spent the entire season in the Class 4A state poll, checking in at No. 2 for much of the season. They were 9-0 entering the regular season finale against crosstown rival Denton Ryan and were beaten soundly, 50-29.
In the Wildcats' playoff opener the next week against Saginaw Boswell, they lost starting outside linebackers Antonio Burton and Kamrhan Jones as Burton tore his second ACL in three years, and Jones broke his foot. Both are out for the season. They also lost their leading receiver Luke Russell to a mild shoulder separation that ended up not being as serious as feared. But Guyer (11-1) still whupped Boswell. Then the Wildcats whupped Mansfield Legacy last week without the two linebackers or Russell, and they sat their starters for much of the second half. But the Wildcats' depth prevailed as Burton and Jones split time at one OLB position, and Jake Smith and Jon King split at the other OLB position and all four are capable starters. So Guyer just moved King to the vacant position and kept Smith at home. Easy fix, right? So far it has been.
But now things get real for the Wildcats, who will face what will most likely be their first true test of the postseason when they travel to Abilene to play Abilene Cooper (9-3) on Saturday at 2 p.m., which Guyer sent packing last year in this same round. It was a heated, emotional game that featured some extra-curricular activity in pregame warmups and going into the halftime locker rooms. Cooper's three losses this year are all to quality Class 5A teams and the Cougars beat El Paso Del Valle, 51-41, last week after getting down early 24-0 in the first quarter.
"I'll say this, I think once you get to the third round of the playoffs, all the teams are good," said senior offensive tackle Cole Underwood, who's orally committed to Stanford. "That's the way it's supposed to be -- good teams against good teams. We have our hands full, but they are just another step in the road to our ultimate goal."
In case you were wondering, that "ultimate goal" is a state title, which narrowly eluded the Wildcats last season.