At this time of year, opposing football coaches have roughly 13 weeks of game video to use in getting prepared for the UIL state quarterfinals.
Colleyville Heritage coach Joe Willis said that means this is the time of year when subtle wrinkles in a team’s scheme, especially on defense, can make all the difference.
After starting the season 1-2 and surrendering and average of 18 points in the second half of those games, Heritage has buckled down over the past 10 games to give up an average of just seven points per game in the closing half.
“Our coaching staff has done a great job of making the necessary adjustments at halftime this season,” Willis said. “Every week now, you see some differences and we’ve had some blown coverage calls and didn’t do a good job on the run in the first half of some games.
“But we played a tough schedule to really test us and now you can see our players starting to realize during games, that they’ve seen some of these things before.”
Heritage (10-3) has given up exactly one touchdown in the second half of its three playoff games, while winning by scores of 50-16, 31-13 and 43-34.
The ability to close out games in their base 3-4 defense has the Panthers within sight of making school history.
Denton Ryan (13-0) stands in Heritage’s way this week. The teams will meet at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at AT&T Stadium to settle things.
“This is the most talented team we’ve played all year,” Willis said. “They do a great job of running their quarterback, they have an explosive receiver on the outside and position receivers on the inside that give them some serious weapons.
“What we have to do is try to make them one-dimensional and part of that is figuring out how to stop their quarterback from doing some of the things he’s comfortable doing.”
Heritage has given up an average of 332.7 yards in three playoff games, and Ryan comes in averaging 366.3 yards per game.
Solving Ryan’s production falls to a strong cast of players for the Panthers, some coming off injury.
Safety Gervon Thothian missed the first two games of the season and was limited against Euless Trinity, but has returned to collect 71 tackles on the season and anchor the secondary.
Mitch Hubbard was asked to fill in for Thothian and is part of a strong crew that includes corner Marcus Mosley, who has three interceptions in the past two games.
But stopping the run will be a likely necessity come Saturday morning and Heritage has shown the moxie to stand firm in that area.
Linebackers Sage Hebb (115 tackles) and Matthew Herrera (111) lead the team in that area, and Paul Mpunga, who wasn’t a starter coming into the season, has 79 tackles, including 12 for loss.
Mpunga had a season-high 12 tackles and an interception last week against Lubbock Coronado.
“When you get this far, depth becomes something you can really develop,” Willis said. “I think when you evaluate where we’re at, during the season, you’re just trying to get used to the day-to-day calls in our defense.
“But we’ve one or two wrinkles we can bring on Saturday.”
Colleyville Heritage vs. Denton Ryan
10:30 a.m. Saturday, AT&T Stadium