ALVARADO — Coming off a productive open week, Alvarado is set for a Thursday night visit at Dallas Hillcrest as the Indians try to stay unbeaten in District 8-4A Division I play.
Alvarado has won five consecutive games since an 0-2 start, with those two losses coming against Van and No. 4 Decatur, teams with a combined 12-2 record entering week 9.
The Indians have outscored district opponents by a combined 138-20 in a convincing 3-0 start. Entering week 9, Alvarado is in first place by a half game over Carrollton Ranchview (3-1).
And last week, the Indians had their bye week, where coach Jeff Dixon said he believes his team continued to improve, just as they’ve done every week this season.
“We had a good open week,” Dixon said. “I really think we got better. We had three physical days [last] Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I think we’re prime to make a run through district and see what happens.”
Dixon said he wasn’t concerned about Alvarado losing any momentum by having an open week interrupt the momentum they’ve gained with their five-game winning streak.
“I think it’s really all how you handle the mindset,” Dixon said. “We know we’ve got to improve. Teams that improve during the season win district championships and win in the playoffs. It doesn’t matter if it’s midseason or at the end of the regular season, we want to attack every week the same way. We haven’t done anything different [during the bye week] since I’ve been here. Our kids know it’s not an off week, it’s an improvement week, and we always attack it the same way.”
Now the Indians turn their attention on a Dallas Hillcrest team that carries a 6-2 (2-2 in district) record into a Thursday night showdown at Franklin Stadium.
Offensively, the Panthers have been led by a solid trio at quarterback, running back and wide receiver. Quarterback Gabriel Granados has completed 58-of-104 passes for 1,027 yards with 17 touchdowns against only four interceptions. Running back Nasir Reynolds has rushed for 1,014 yards and 15 touchdowns on just 86 carries. And receiver Dejon Baker is Granados’ go-to target in the passing game with 619 yards and 11 touchdowns on 22 catches.
Hillcrest thrives on big plays, evidenced by the yards-per averages for the Panthers’ leaders: Granados averages 17.7 yards per completion, Reynolds averages 11.8 yards per rush, and Baker averages 28.1 yards per reception.
“Those guys are talented and they have big-play potential,” Dixon said. “If we don’t allow the big play then I think they will struggle consistently moving the ball down the field. We’ve got to hem them in and do our part to prevent the big play.
“I’d say the quarterback is what makes them go. He’s elusive so if you don’t contain him he’ll hurt you running. He throws the ball well. He’s got receivers who are talented that can hurt you if they get the ball. He seems to operate that offense very well. You can tell he’s the leader on the team.”
The Indians have rushed for 2,429 yards as a team through just seven games — an average of 347 rushing yards per game, led by Colby Sampson’s 1,641 yards and 16 touchdowns on 209 carries.
While Alvarado has been able to move the ball on the ground almost at will against its first seven opponents, Dixon said they don’t know what to expect against Hillcrest’s defense.
“I don’t know what they’re going to do,” Dixon said. “They haven’t played a team that has tight ends and fullbacks like us. What you see vs. a spread may not be what you see vs. an offense like ours. Preparing for that makes it difficult. Last year, they attempted to disrupt our bread and butter by putting people in gaps. If you’re not prepared for that, it can cause some issues. So their front 7 can cause enough confusion by being lined up in places we’re not ready for. We have to be technical and sound, and we’ll be OK.”
A primary factor in Alvarado’s five-game winning streak has been the Indians’ success in the turnover battle. In those five games, Alvarado is plus-8 in turnover margin.
“We want to keep creating turnovers and win that battle,” Dixon said. “For five weeks in a row, we’ve created more turnovers than we’ve had. And we’ve won those games. We like that. I think by playing fast defensively, we’ve been doing that. That’s a big piece.”
While every team wants to win the turnover battle, when a team like Alvarado does — with its ball-control offense — it’s devastating for the opposition, which already gets limited possessions to begin win.
“It’s huge because they already know playing Alvarado they’re going to be limited on touches,” Dixon said. “If they turn the ball over, that’s even less opportunities they have than to begin with. They need to take advantage of every time they have the football because they may only get it two times per half, three at the most, if we’re doing what we’re supposed to do on offense. So if we force turnovers, it makes it that much more difficult [on opponents].”
While Alvarado’s “bread and butter” is obviously the run game, a big part of having that success is keeping defenses honest by having a passing threat. And the Indians’ passing game, led by quarterback Josh Syrus, has improved weekly.
“We need to continue to control the ball on the ground and be effective in our passing,” Dixon said. “Two weeks in a row we’ve been over 80 percent completion rate, so we want to keep that rolling.”
Kickoff between the Indians and Panthers is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday from Franklin Stadium in Dallas.