Wildcats look for first win at River Road

After suffering the first program loss in two years, the Canadian Wildcats have a great opportunity to return to the win column this week. Heading on the road again, the No. 4 Wildcats will face 3A River Road on Friday.
After an opening-week duel with a prolific offense in Bushland, the Wildcats should have the opportunity to make adjustments and fix the overwhelming number of mistakes from last Friday.
“It really hurt losing,” said Head Coach Chris Koetting, “and thankfully we haven’t had that feeling in a while, but there was no doom and gloom after that game. We made a bunch of mistakes, we got a lot of things to get better at, but we’re going to be fine if we just keep improving and working hard. Just cut down on the mistakes, we’re gonna be fine.” In 2015, River Road boasted a meager 4-7 record with their single district victory enough to earn them a date with Shallowater in the bidistrict championship. The Mustangs proceeded to trample the Wildcats 63-14. In the Wildcats’ seven losses, the average margin of victory for their opponent was five touchdowns.
To find the last time River Road ended the season with a winning record, fans need to look all the way back to 2009 where the Wildcats finished 9-4. One of those four losses came on opening week to Canadian, 35-25.
In the last decade, River Road remains winless versus Canadian going 0-8. The last time the Wildcats met each other was opening week in 2013 with Canadian escaping with the 48-21 victory.
This year, River Road is still breaking in a couple new quarterbacks with junior Hunter Mitchell and senior Jaylon Burnett splitting time. The Wildcats’ strength will actually come on the defense with eight starters returning including linebacker Kevin Conner who collected 109 tackles in 2015—15 of them for a loss. Devin Chavez might be the biggest threat to Air Canada’s passing attack after getting a pair of interceptions last season.
It’s the closest to a gimme game that the Wildcats will get in their pre-district slate.
That’s still a far cry from a walking victory.
“Our pre-district schedule is rough,” said Koetting. “There’s no free game there, that no matter what you’re going to win. Our focus each week is to get better so we can go win a district championship. That’s our goal.”
Canadian will have to avoid the same plight that doomed them last week—namely self-defeating errors.
The Bushland receiving corps diced the Wildcat secondary, and with relatively simple routes. The Blackade will need to remain disciplined on curls and comebacks or 6-foot-1 Seth Barbarino and the River Road receivers might have a breakout day.
“They have very athletic kids in the skill positions,” praised Koetting. “They’re a team that they want to run the ball, but they have some guys they can throw it up to, kind of like what happened last week.”
This also offers an opportunity for the Canadian D-line to re-emerge as a force. After only one sack tallied versus Bushland, look for the front seven to get a bigger push and stir trouble in the River Road backfield on Friday.
Junior Wyatt Bishop had to step in on Friday to fill Julian Vigil’s enormous shoes at linebacker. The rookie did not disappoint with three tackles for loss. Can Bishop use this next game as a springboard to earn himself a spot in the regular linebacker rotation?
The Air Canada offense did enough to win the game last week. Any day your offense scores 35 points should be enough to seal a victory. At the same time, they did plenty to lose the game as well. Four turnovers can just as easily doom an otherwise winning performance. The Wildcats should do a better job of taking care of the ball this week. If they can get into a groove early, the jitters that seemed to plague the offense last week should dissipate and the Wildcats can go back to playing pitch and catch.
“We gotta cut down negative plays and be better on third down,” said Koetting. “If we will do that, that’ll be drastic improvement.”
Nobody ever really wants to run their star triggerman, but Corbin Douthitt’s got a set of wheels and runs the read option very well. Combine a little ground game from your quarterback and a better connection with the wide receivers and maybe Chris Jones starts finding holes and tearing up more turf.
Fans will be anxious to see how Canadian responds to their first loss in 32 games. This is a moment of motivation or one of collapse. With a home schedule looming versus powerhouses Perryton and Stratford, the Wildcats can have a turning point in week two or implode under the weight of a single 3-point loss to a larger school.
“The desire to go win a game,” said Koetting, of the Wildcats’ motivation heading into Friday. “They didn’t like that feeling. Coaches didn’t like it. Players didn’t like it. I’m sure the community doesn’t like it. So that’s pretty good motivation right there.”
We’ll find out if it’s enough at 7:30 pm at River Road, Friday. The Record will be live from Amarillo with updates, photos and interviews on our Facebook page or Twitter @CRecordSports.

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