That week of rest has come and gone for the Wildcat football team.
After thoroughly dismantling Stratford 42-14 via aerial assault and stifling defensive front, Canadian (2-2) took a week to recuperate and now head down the road to Vernon to tackle the Lions (1-4).
Don’t be deceived by the ho hum records though. Both teams, as evidenced by this matchup, fail to shy away from big time opponents.
Canadian’s two losses come in the form of a combined 13-point deficit to 4A schools, Bushland and Perryton.
Vernon opened the season versus a top-ranked Wylie team and took them to the wire before losing 15-9. They followed with a trip to Oklahoma to battle past state champion and No. 17 Altus where they lost 26-3. The Hirschi Huskies (4-1) escaped the Lions 16-9 and 4-1 Springtown followed last week with a 20-point win.
“Canadian’s won more games here the last two years than we have,” said Lion Head Coach Mark Bateman. “I’m not sure it’s a homefield advantage for us. With the discipline Canadian has and the trips they made . . . They traveled to Houston and won a state championship in football. They went to San Antonio and won a state championship in basketball. They had to go to College Station for tennis. They had to go to Austin for track. I really don’t think a trip to Vernon is going to affect them very much.”
Wildcat Head Coach Chris Koetting isn’t fooled though.
“They’re a lot better than a 1-4 team,” said Koetting. “I know that.
Both teams are very similar with offense still trying to establish a rhythm early in the season juxtaposed to defenses that can cripple their opponent or breakdown magnificently into giving up the big play. Both coaches agreed, limiting offensive highlights will be the key to leaving Vernon with the win.
“Offensively,” said Bateman, “[Canadian is] so adept at finding the weak spots. They run the ball very well, throw the ball when they need to, the kids execute the offense very well. It’s going to be a tough deal for us on defense.”
“There’s a lot of misdirection,” said Koetting of the Lions’ Wing-T offense. “Just focus on your job and key—have good eye discipline—and just don’t give up big plays. They don’t throw it much, but when they do, it’s downfield.”
To limit those 20-plus yard gains, both teams will lean heavily on all-star athletes to disrupt the streaky offenses.
For the Lions, 6-foot-1, 255-pound defensive lineman Donnell Kendricks will cause havoc on the front line. Kendricks is attributed with 40 tackles on the season thus far and for Koetting, that poses a problem.
“When a lineman is leading your team in tackles, he’s pretty good. He’s pretty close to the kid in Perryton, [Sean Walton]. He’s big and athletic. They even put him in the backfield some. He’s a really good player.”
For Bateman, the entire Canadian defense looks to cause problems for his offense.
“They’ve got a good defense,” said Bateman. “All three of the linebackers do a good job of running to the ball. The front line does a good job of keeping people off the linebackers. They’ve got good skill athletes that do a good job in the secondary. Just a solid defensive crew that’s very well coached. They don’t make many mistakes. First downs are going to be hard to come by and if you get yourself in a long-yardage situation on second or third down, it makes it hard to make first downs.”
That’s not to say the Lions don’t have offensive weapons capable of producing fireworks.
Fullback Brent McCallon leads the team in yards with 243 on 57 carries. Tailback Jordan Villalobos isn’t far behind with 224 on 47 carries.
That danger seeps onto the outside edges as well.
“They have a 6-foot-3 kid on the outside, [Bryson Hall],” said Koetting. “He’s scary looking out there. He’s big and they throw it up to him. If the quarterback can get it in the vicinity of that guy, he can catch it. It’s concerning, the uniqueness of the offense and their talented skill guys.”
That delivery will be Chaz Smith’s responsibility. No. 10 leads the team in touchdowns with six and is just as liable on a bootleg to take off with the ball as he is to attempt to sling a pass downfield. However, the run-and-gunner is nursing an ankle injury and is listed as day to day by Bateman.
In week six of the season, those tweaks and bruises are being felt on both sides. After gaining back all-state receiver Cameron Copley versus Stratford, the Wildcats lost receivers and secondary Trae Dwyer-Krehbiel and Manny Ramsey. Ramsey through this week is the team-leader in receiving yards.
Despite the losses, Bateman doesn’t feel like the Canadian offense will be slowing down any time soon.
“The quarterback is playing very well,” said Bateman. “The running back is a great runner. They’ve got people that can catch the football. There’s not really one person on their offense that makes things go. You just have to be able to play the whole field because they stretch it out and do a good job of finding weak spots.”
To find success, both teams will have to limit their turnovers.
In both of their losses, the Wildcats lost the turnover battle a combined 7-2. In the double-digit loss to Perryton the Cats were skunked 3-0.
Vernon is having their own issues protecting the pigskin. Though the Lions have only thrown two interceptions, they have put the ball on the ground 13 times and lost six of them.
“We’ve got to do a better job of taking care of the football and not have any turnovers,” said Bateman. “Penalties have been hurting us really bad in the red zone . . . We’ve had the ball 12 times inside the opponents’ 30 yard line the last three ball games and came away with 3 points those 12 drives. We’ve got to be able to finish drives and put points on the board. Hopefully we’ll do a better job of that.”
For both teams, the match represents a final opportunity to fine tune their game plans before hitting their district schedule.
“This Vernon game is very important to me,” said Koetting, “because we should be starting to hit our stride and playing really well before going into that game with Childress. Get some momentum and confidence going this week.”
“It’s just one of those deals,” said Bateman, “two great programs are gonna meet probably for the first time ever. All we’re trying to do is get better on both sides of the ball and the kicking game and hopefully come out of this thing healthy.”
As for the seemingly annual roadtrip to Vernon, it’s a place the Wildcats feel at home.
“It’s a nice field,” said Koetting, “brand new turf. We’ve had some success there. Any time you have success somewhere, you like that place. It’s a long drive but it doesn’t seem like a bad drive. It kind of feels like going on a playoff game. I’m looking forward to it.”
“It’ll be a great game,” said Bateman. “Canadian has a great tradition of playing fundamentally sound football. Just good ol’ country kids that play hard and play like they’re supposed to play. It’s going to be a fun atmosphere and a great game.”
Kickoff is at 7:30 pm at Leo Brittain Field in Vernon. The Record will be live with updates, photos and interviews via social media @CRecordSports.
That week of rest has come and gone for the Wildcat football team.