By late Friday night, the Richland and Grapevine football teams will come off Mustang-Panther Stadium’s field, probably asking the same questions.
Are we that good? Are we better than we think we are? Are we worse?
This District 8-5A meeting matches teams that have combined for one loss. They have dominated their respective schedules, mostly against teams far less talented than they are. The Mustangs (5-1, 3-0) have won by an average of 42 points. The Rebels (6-0, 3-0) have won by an average of 33.
“I think a lot of people are still waiting to see if we’re any good,” Richland coach Ged Kates said. “I don’t get caught up with that. And I don’t think our team does either. But this is more of a barometer of where we are.”
To the surprise of many, Richland won the 2016 meeting, 38-35. Still, the Rebels are not considered the favorite in this rematch since they’re on the road.
Everybody brings their A-game to something like this ... I get all worked up.
Richland linebacker DaShaun White
But this is the kind of game that Kates and Grapevine coach Mike Alexander, who was promoted after Randy Jackson left for North Forney, want their programs to play season after season. Something is at stake.
“Everybody brings their A-game to something like this because you want to go against the best competition,” said Richland senior linebacker DaShaun White. “I get all worked up. I like to perform and make plays in front of a crowd. The bigger the game, the better you play.”
The winner clinches a playoff berth. This meeting possibly carries Division II playoff implications. That depends on if Birdville reaches the postseason. Both thought they were headed to Division II last year until Fort Worth Dunbar upset Birdville and sent the Rebels into Division I and pushed the Mustangs into the higher seed in Division II. Both wound up facing state powers in Denton Ryan and Aledo in the area round.
This chess match depends on each team’s defensive front seven and how it can dictate the line of scrimmage. Grapevine is inexperienced and hoping it can mount a consistent pass rush against Rebel quarterback Drew Trent. It’s built around senior nose guard Cole Stephenson. Alexander is also fortifying the secondary as receivers David Clayton and Jordan Brooks-Wess should see time.
Richland is more experienced with its defense and likely has the best athlete on the field in White, a Texas A&M commit. His sideline-to-sideline speed is difficult to account for as he leads the Richland defense with seven tackles for loss.
“[Richland] covers him up,” Alexander said. “They put someone on all of our offensive linemen and let him run free. It’s hard to get a hat on him.”
However, Alexander believes this offense is more balanced with the emergence of junior Roshawn Prear (811 yards, 11 touchdowns). He has been able to take some of the pressure off quarterback Alan Bowman (1,565 yards, 16 touchdowns), even though he has two proficient receivers in Clayton (453, seven touchdowns) and Brooks-Wess (447, eight touchdowns).
Richland counters with quarterback Drew Trent (1,003, 12 touchdowns) mixing with running back Rylee Johnson (737 yards 12 touchdowns) and top receiver target Rashee Rice (24.0 yards per catch, seven touchdowns).
“We can’t take any drive or play for granted,” Bowman said. “It’s going to be a real challenge. But the success we’ve had in the last four years is because of our belief system. When I was freshman, you could tell we lost to Lake Dallas before we ever played. Now, we actually believe we can win every single game.”
The game has changed. A 35-28 decision in 2017 is akin to a 14-7 game played maybe 20 years ago. Regardless, a sequel from last year would do just fine.
“We have fond memories not because we won but because of how great it was,” Kates said. “We embrace these games because you like to see how we handle it. It prepares us for other bigger ones.”