London Daniels

London Daniels, sophomore, looks to pass for Gainesville. The Leopards head to Springtown for their last regular season game Friday.

The Gainesville Leopards are headed to Springtown on Friday for their regular season finale, facing a must-win situation to make the playoffs.

Gainesville (2-7 overall, 1-3 District 4-4A-1) would finish fourth with a win, assuming Decatur beats Burkburnett. This would put the Leopards in the playoffs while the Porcupines would be left out.

Springtown (6-3, 2-2) couldn’t match last year’s district championship performance this season, but a win at home could potentially see the Porcupines finish tied for second.

Gainesville coach James Polk said the Leopards are upbeat as they prepare for Springtown.

“We’ve had good practices,” Polk said. “We’ve had good attendance. They seem motivated. They seem they’re ready to go. They’re listening. They’re doing the things that they need to do preparing for a game.”

For Gainesville, the situation is simple. Win this game, and the Leopards are almost certainly in the playoffs. Lose, and they are not.

Springtown always presents a big challenge. The Porcupines won the district last year and reached the fourth round of the playoffs. They reached the fifth the year before. This is a program accustomed to winning.

Beating Springtown will be tough, but Polk said he has been preaching to the players they just need a second district win to keep the season going.

“The message has been the same,” Polk said. “If we get this, we’re in. It changes the culture, it changes the atmosphere, it just changes everything if you get a win and get in the playoffs.”

Gainesville will have to win on the road, which makes it even tougher. Still, both of Gainesville’s wins this season have been away from Leopard Stadium. The Leopards beat Mineral Wells on the road in the last non-district game and beat Burkburnett at Iowa Park.

Polk said he doesn’t think playing on the road is much different than at home in high school.

“When I was playing in college, when you got 100,000 people at a game, I think there’s advantages then,” Polk said. “But when you go on the road and it’s not even a packed house, the field is the same. We play on turf. I just don’t think it’s that big a deal or that big a difference unless it was like the 12th man in Seattle, just noisy and people all over the place… I don’t think it makes a big difference for us.”

Springtown uses a balanced rushing attack. Senior running back Matthew Lockard leads the team with 599 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. Sophomore quarterback Hudson Hulett and senior Josef Yosten each have four rushing scores.

Hulett also regularly throws the ball. He is averaging 162.2 yards per game and has thrown 14 touchdown passes with seven interceptions.

Polk said the Leopards need cut down on the turnovers that have plagued them in recent games to give themselves a chance against the Porcupines.

“We dedicate an hour a week to nothing but ball handling, and we’ve always done that,” Polk said. “We’ve just had the fumble-itis and things like that here recently. If it was just one kid, that’d be one thing, but it’s happening all over. We’re dropping kicks, fumbling the ball and throwing interception. There’s just too many turnovers going on right now. To me, it starts with ball security and ball handling, and that’s what we spend 10, 15 minutes (on) every single day.”

Kickoff in Springtown is set for 7 p.m.

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