Gainesville Leopards

The Gainesville Leopards line up for a play. Gainesville opens district play at home Friday night against Decatur.

Gainesville kicks off district action Friday night with a home game against Decatur.

Gainesville (1-4) is well-rested from its bye week, and the Leopards are anxious to get back on the field.

Decatur (2-3) played a challenging non-district schedule and will be looking for a strong start to district play.

Gainesville coach James Polk said his players were energized a bit by the win against Mineral Wells two weeks ago.

“They’re coming before practice and staying after practice, just doing a lot more work than they had done,” Polk said. “I think that they just see that we could possibly do something here.”

The Leopards struggled for most of the non-district schedule, but they played most of those games without several players. They got most of the team back for Van Alstyne, but it finally showed against the Rams.

Polk said having everyone back has made Gainesville a stronger team, especially on defense.

“I think that we’ve gotten better at some key positions, and I think that some of the things that we’re able to do is going to make it a little bit harder for them,” Polk said. “We just have to get out there and execute it, and I do know we have a lot of confidence.”

Decatur spreads the ball around. Senior running back Kamerin Ferguson and juniors Cade Johnson and Preston Escobar each average over 50 rushing yards per game and account for seven of the Eagles’ nine rushing touchdowns. Escobar also averages 86 passing yards per game and has thrown four touchdowns with two interceptions.

Polk said the Eagles’ depth makes them a challenging opponent.

“I don’t think there’s one guy that makes their defense go or one guy that makes their offense go,” Polk said. “I just think that they had a lot of all-district players coming back on both sides of the ball, and when you can’t just focus on one guy, that just lets you know that that’s a tough opponent coming up. You have to prepare for them all.”

The Eagles have been mostly solid defensively, but teams have been able to run the ball effectively against Decatur. Glen Rose rushed for 283 yards and six touchdowns in Decatur’s most recent game, while Midlothian Heritage rushed for 228 and six scores. The fewest rushing yards Decatur has allowed was 132 in week one.

Gainesville seniors Jayce Morgan and Harrison Dempsey both average over 100 rushing yards per game and have combined for 14 touchdowns. If the duo gets going, they can give themselves a chance to win.

For Polk, this game comes down to taking advantage of opportunities.

“We’re just going to have to limit our penalties and capitalize when we have opportunities offensively to score,” Polk said. “Defensively, when we have opportunities to get them off the field, that’s what we have to do. We have to win the third downs.”

Kickoff at Leopard Stadium is set for 7 p.m.

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