BURLESON — When Burleson Centennial and Amarillo Tascosa square off Friday in a Class 5A Division I area playoff game, it will almost be like the Spartans and Rebels are looking in the mirror.
Both Centennial (5-6) and Tascosa (9-2) run the same offensive system, same defensive scheme and are similar in special teams.
Centennial Head Coach Kyle Geller said he has never coached in a game like this, where his opponent is essentially a carbon copy of his team.
“It’s crazy how close we are as far as scheme on offense and defense and even the special teams part of it,” Geller said. “We’re pretty similar overall. It’s funny.”
While the Spartans and Rebels are almost mirror images of each other scheme-wise and in their respective styles of play, the two teams have taken different paths to the second round of the playoffs. While Tascosa has steamrolled its opposition for the most part to the tune of a 9-2 record, Centennial had to persevere through some tough times, including a five-game losing streak earlier in the season.
After the Spartans’ 28-21 bi-district win over Justin Northwest, Geller looked around at his players celebrating a playoff victory and really took time to soak it all in, knowing they were once 1-5.
And now that Centennial has gotten healthy and started to peak at the right time, the Spartans are feeling confident moving forward.
“I think they’re really encouraged,” Geller said. “They knew they were a good team, we just had to get things together and patch some things up and improve. I don’t think they ever felt like they were a terrible team. I think now they feel like, ‘Yeah, it really does work out when you’re loyal to each other and you just keep grinding.’ So I think they’ve been in a really good mood this week in practice. It’s exciting. It’s exciting for them to have this opportunity. Heck, if they win this round, they match the best anybody’s done at Centennial as far as deepest playoff run. The furthest we’ve ever gone is three rounds so they’ve got that opportunity in front of them.”
Tascosa has out-scored its opponents by a combined 289 points so far this season. The Rebels’ lone losses came against Midland Legacy (10-1) on Sept. 3 and Lubbock Coronado (7-4) on Nov. 4.
Considering there will be no surprises as to what offense and defense each other are running, Geller said this game — even moreso than others — will come down to execution and ball security.
“Both sides know the ins and outs of some things that other coaches wouldn’t know,” Geller said. “Some of it gets down to even your technique. So it’s going to be a big challenge for us and it’s going to be a big challenge for them moving the football. It comes down to who executes better and who doesn’t turn the ball over. And really, in a game like this, sometimes it comes down to who throws the ball better.”
Additionally, winning first down will be key — something the Spartans learned the hard way earlier this season.
“When we were on our five-game skid, we found ourselves in second-and-long a lot and that was tough,” Geller said. “When we were able to start getting four, five, six yards on first down, life becomes a lot easier.”
While both teams operate out of the same triple-option offense, Geller said the two teams have a few differences.
“They have some little differences here and there just like any team would,” he said. “I think we throw the ball a little more than we do. They’re bigger than us. Up front they’re much bigger than us. All of their skill guys can really go. They’re all really fast. Coach [Kenneth] Plunk does a great job of putting them in the right spots. It’s going to be a great challenge for our defense.
“They have a simple plan and they don’t try to do too much. I catch myself sometimes trying to do too much but they do a great job of using about six or seven plays that they run really well. They’re very good technique-wise.”
After going against their own defense in practice all year, the Spartan defense should have a good idea of what’s coming, but Geller said he believes whichever defense is on the attack will have the advantage.
“Any coach that talks about stopping the option it comes down to No. 1 you have an assignment and you do your job,” Geller said. “But more than anything else, years ago Lou Holtz said you don’t sit back and just take it when you’re playing an option team, you have to attack it. That’s going to be the biggest difference for either team is who’s attacking it. You have to read your key and attack it. And trust it. A lot of teams don’t want to play an option team early in the season in non-district, but I think it’s one of the best things any team can do because it teaches defenses to trust each other and read their keys. That’s what you have to do and I’m sure they’re saying the same thing over there.”
Similar to the Spartans’ offense, Tascosa spreads the ball around — six different players have at least 320 rushing yards. But Major Everhart — 801 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns on just 59 carries — is their home run threat.
“They have one kid, No. 16 [Everhart], and he’s probably the most explosive out of all of them, but they all can go — even their receivers,” Geller said. “Their quarterback got hurt in week 10. So from what I understand he’s out. That could be a factor in the game, just like it was for us when Phillip [Hamilton] went down. But they have plenty of guys who can pick up the slack. They put one of their slot backs at QB last week and his first carry was a 75-yard touchdown. They’re very talented.”
While Geller said execution and turnovers will be key, an area of this game that often goes overlooked is the field position battle.
“I told our team on Monday morning, ‘Look, here’s what’s going to be the difference: turnover battle and special teams,’” Geller said. “Those two things will be the game. If you start talking about teams that know each other’s scheme and if it becomes a defensive ball game, it comes down to a turnover or field position due to special teams. That’s how important it is this week.”
The Spartans and Rebels are scheduled for a 6 p.m. kickoff Friday from Memorial Stadium in Wichita Falls.
The winner moves on to the third round of the playoffs and will meet the Colleyville Heritage/Amarillo winner.