Joe Willis talked about changing the mindset of the Colleyville Heritage football program. He initiated the talking points since the day he arrived in late May 2015.
While he didn’t have much time to put together everything that he wanted for the 2015 season, he did for 2016. Colleyville Heritage finished with a share of a district championship, three playoff victories and playing into the first week of December.
As frustrating as September may have been with a 1-2 record, the Panthers eventually became benefactors. They were the last team standing in Northeast Tarrant County.
It all came to an end this past Saturday in a 24-10 loss to Denton Ryan in the Class 5A Division I Region I championship game at AT&T Stadium. Colleyville Heritage finished the season at 10-4.
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Willis scheduled tougher because he wanted a program to be tougher. After all, he coached Cedar Park to three appearances in the Class 5A state championship game.
As it turns out, two of the opponents he lost to are still playing. Aledo, which defeated the Panthers 41-36 in the season opener, is in the 5A Division II state semifinals. Ryan plays Highland Park in the Division I state semifinals.
“I was really proud of our team because we played three top teams in the state this year and we were in every one of those ballgames,” Willis said. “What it shows is that our kids and our coaches bought in and are here to win.”
Against Aledo, Colleyville Heritage was driving for the winning score until an interception in the final seconds ended those hopes. Against Ryan, the Panthers never led or were tied but closed to within 17-10 midway through the fourth quarter.
A taxed defense, one that held a very talented Ryan offense to only three points on three trips into the red zone in the first half, was asked to get one more stop. It didn’t work out. After giving up a touchdown in the third quarter when the Raiders used the first 9:20 of the quarter, the Panthers just didn’t have enough. Ryan answered with a touchdown to end matters.
“We made some aggressive calls,” Willis said. “But that’s what you’re supposed to do in a game like this. They had a couple of broken tackles that made the difference. I’ve always said that teams that are going to make deep playoff runs have to play good defense and have to run the football. We saw that.”
The Panthers will have to look for some different answers in their skill positions. Quarterback Cam Roane and running back Mario Ortiz are done. The program must find a new signal caller and running back to lead the way.
But there will be two intriguing receivers returning in junior-to-be Kam Brown and senior-to-be Ke’Von Ahmad. Ahmad, who had been battling a deep thigh bruise for the last five weeks, returned against Denton Ryan.
“There’s going to be a lot of competition in a lot of spots,” Willis said. “We’re excited about the depth we developed this year. We got to play a lot of kids.”