Friday’s opponent Decatur might have a losing record, but the Eagles are 3-1 in district play, so the Gainesville Leopards are not taking them lightly.
The Eagles downed the Leopards in a shootout 65-51 last season and won 56-28 the season before, so Decatur has had the upper hand lately.
Despite earning their first playoff berth in the past four seasons with their recent win over Mineral Wells, Gainesville head coach James Polk said he hasn’t needed to stress the importance of having a killer instinct to close out the regular season.
“We haven’t talked about it,” Polk said. “They already know it. They know this is a playoff game. They want to get the third seed. I’ve never been the kind that over-stresses an opponent. They know Decatur is good. People say Decatur is down, but they’ve lost to Kennedale, Wichita Falls Hirschi and Springtown. They’ve lost to three or four top-15 teams in the state. They can still play.”
While offense and defense can sometimes garner the headlines for why a team wins or loses, Polk said it’s the third phase of the game that is most important to him.
“We need to stay healthy, keep our composure and play good special teams,” Polk said. “There are always big kick returns or punt returns. It’s special teams that win the game more than anything because of field position and a lot of coaches don’t put a lot of time in it. We do and I think that’s where you gain an advantage.”
In Nov. 2’s 42-38 win over Mineral Wells, Polk harkened back to one of the key moments of the game and hopes the Leopards can extend that philosophy against Decatur.
“We have to not outsmart ourselves,” Polk said. “Whatever they understand is what we need to do. I can think of a moment where it was 2nd-and-18 and we needed to score with like 1:32 left. Mineral Wells was back in prevent and everybody thought we would throw the ball, but I thought we should run up the middle and it ended up going to the house for a touchdown.”
It was running back CJ Feagins that ripped off the 52-yard run for a touchdown.
On the defensive side of the ball, Polk said it will be important for the Leopards to align correctly.
“We have to be sound on our scheme as far as what we’re trying to do,” Polk said. “We can’t expect the kids to soak in a ton of information in three days. We went into the year with four returning starters on the offensive line, but we only have one left. Next year, we’ll have three returning so they’ll be able to handle more information.”
The Leopards are expecting the Eagles to utilize their spread formation and lean on their screen game.
Polk said it was important for the team not to panic if things don’t go the Leopards’ way from time to time, so he is stressing to the team to stay within itself.
“We have to keep our defensive schemes basic and maybe have a tweak or two and tackle,” Polk said. “On offense, we need to get into a flow with our offensive line and stick with what they’re doing the best.”
Patrick Hayslip can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @PatrickHayslip