Kilgore is in a tight race in the “District of Doom,” Leverett’s Chapel can secure a playoff berth with a win this weekend, and Kilgore College is hosting a conference playoff game.
But there is one game this week that is for sure a championship game. It’ll be played in Gladewater, and it matches up a pair of old rivals – although one has never beaten the other.
One of the teams has an unbeaten record, and is beating its opponents on average by 25 points a game. This team was not picked to be a district champion, but few at this point could bet against them. Incredibly, it’s not Gladewater. It’s Sabine.
Coach Rex Sharp and his undefeated Sabine Cardinals (8-0 overall, 4-0 in district play) will head the short distance to Gladewater to face the Bears (5-3, 3-1) for the unquestioned District 8-3A, Division I championship, a 7:30 p.m. kickoff for this huge game Friday night at Jack V. Murphy Stadium.
To be sure, the Cardinals don’t have a good football history. They’ve won district titles, but they’ve never won a playoff game. In fact, in 23 previous meetings, they’ve never beaten Gladewater.
The series with the Bears didn’t begin until 1986, and continued through 2007, when the two teams, no longer district rivals, elected to quit playing.
But the University Interscholastic League’s realignment in February, 2018 put them back in the same district against each other, and they did play last year. Still, Sabine didn’t win, and the numbers aren’t good, none of them are in Sabine’s favor.
They might be this year.
If Sabine beats Gladewater, they’re district champions outright, because Gladewater, with its sole district loss, is the only team that can catch them, and Sabine hosts winless White Oak to close out the regular season next Friday. If Sabine loses to Gladewater, and beats White Oak, the Cardinals would still share the district title.
Beating Gladewater, history aside, will not be an easy task.
Coach John Berry’s Bears were an expected contender in the district, and even though they lost in convincing fashion at highly-ranked Pleasant Grove, when the Bears beat West Rusk – scoring with just three seconds left – it seemed they were the favorite.
But Gladewater lost unexpectedly to Mineola two weeks ago, and that, combined with Sabine playing practically mistake-free football, allowed the Cardinals to bump the Bears for the driver’s seat.
Gladewater comes off a 44-0 thumping of White Oak last week. The Bears took out a few frustrations. Quarterback Tristan Holmes scored on a 20-yard run and threw a couple of touchdown passes, as well, and Malachi Gordon ran for 117 yards and a score. On defense, Zach Villareal had 10 tackles, three of them for loss.
Sabine flexed its muscles, meanwhile, at home against Mineola. Quarterback Landon McKinney continued to perform as arguably the hottest quarterback in the district, throwing to A.J. Gresham for a score and also rushing for a touchdown and 105 yards in a 31-6 win.
The offense is getting attention, as always, but the defense is putting together maybe its best season ever for Liberty City’s home team. Leading tackler this season Brent Warren had a fumble recovery for a touchdown, three tackles for loss, two sacks and 11 total tackles.
That alone would be impressive, but Tristan Green had 11 tackles, too, two of them for loss, and a sack, and Asher Foster had nine tackles, three for loss and forced a fumble. Special teams for Sabine are special. Fernando Jaimes recovered from an injury against West Rusk to come back for three field goals against Mineola.