Grapevine’s football expedition in 2016 has brought the Mustangs to the base of Mount Everest.
The “hill” the Mustangs must climb to advance in the Texas state high school playoffs is not only the state’s top-ranked Class 5A team, but an empire bent on expanding its realm through continued postseason conquests.
While Grapevine is coming off its first playoff victory in 10 years last week against Fort Worth Southwest, unbeaten Aledo is pursuing its sixth state title in eight years.
In other words, the Mustangs are in uncharted territory. Friday’s Class 5A Division I Region I area round is as routine for the Bearcats as the bell to start second period each day.
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“I’m excited to play,” said linebacker Collin Margiotta, a Grapevine leader whose can-do enthusiasm for living is so contagious it makes writers excited to write. “We’re definitely excited. We’re coming off a huge win last week, but that’s not why we’re excited to play football. Winning bi-district was fun, but the moment that was over we focused on Aledo.
“Aledo is the team you strive to beat in a playoff setting. Practice has been awesome these last few days. We’re ready to play someone who is as physical as we are.”
That element of physicality is what makes this game interesting.
It might not be the Mustangs, but if someone takes down the king of the kingdom it will be one who can match the Bearcats’ physicality.
The Mustangs have that. This is the blue-collar outfit that coach Randy Jackson has been trying to mold since his arrival in 2014.
At 10-1, Grapevine, though, also enters having already climbed some steep hills, considered insurmountable until this year.
Namely, a victory over arch-rival Colleyville Heritage (10-1), a first in eight seasons, as well as a blowout win over Abilene Cooper (7-4). Both of those teams are still playing.
Against the Panthers, the Mustangs, co-champs in District 8-5A, fought back from a 14-0 deficit and took control of the game.
Those aren’t just merely regular-season victories. Those are games the Mustangs will draw on, proof to themselves that they belong in a game like this.
The Heritage game “really taught us that no matter what’s going on we can fight back and win,” Margiotta said. “Nobody is too big for us. We can go toe-to-toe with anybody in 5A right now.”
While players are in unmapped terrain, Jackson, the coach, has been here. There might not be a steadier hand in preparing players for this moment. Jackson went 30-9 at Mesquite Poteet in three seasons, including a surprise run to the Class 5A state semifinals in a “miracle” season of 2010.
Does he have another in his back pocket?
The coach said he hasn’t played up the opponent or even the round of the playoffs this week. He and coaches are treating the game just like any other. In the locker room is a mannequin named “Next.” It’s outfitted just as it was the week of the Carter-Riverside and Polytechnic games or any other date — in white jersey, white pants and white helmet. “It’s all about Mustang football and what we need to do to win,” Margiotta said.
“We’re playing the Alabama of 5A football, I know we are,” Jackson said. “For Aledo this is no big deal. If they’re not playing the week before Christmas, they’re disappointed. We have to really maintain that’s it’s business as usual for us because I know that’s what they’re doing.”
The blueprint for success at Grapevine is to win more plays than the opponent. That’s the “Grapevine way,” the coach said.
After the Colleyville Heritage victory, Margiotta said, “our big thing was ‘Is our mission accomplished?’ It’s really not. Our mission isn’t accomplished. Every week adds to it. Every week is a new mission.”
If winning is indeed an attitude or a frame of mind, Grapevine has it.
And expect the Mustangs to give Aledo all it wants on Friday.
Carroll on TV
Southlake Carroll’s Class 6A Division II Region I area round game with DeSoto at Murphy’s Kimbrough Stadium near Plano will be broadcast live Friday on KTXA/Ch. 21 at 7:30 p.m.
Mansfield Legacy basketball forward Brandon Reeves signed Wednesday with Harding University, an NCAA Division II program in Searcy Ark.
Reach John Henry at email@example.com. Twitter: @John_F_Henry