For all his team’s success this year, John Tyler head football coach Ricklan Holmes is only semi-satisfied with the Lions’ playoff run to this point.
The Lions’ new leader knows all about close calls, nearing a state championship but falling just short. Holmes played on a JT team in 1997 that spent the first eight weeks ranked No. 1 before losing in the state semifinals to Flower Mound Marcus. Holmes served as secondary coach on last year’s JT team that lost to Waco Midway in the state semifinals.
In his first year as JT head coach, Holmes and the Lions are in the same spot again. JT (13-1) takes on Denton Guyer (12-2) Friday at Midlothian Multi-Purpose Stadium in the Class 4A Division I state semifinals.
The Midway loss fueled the fire for JT to not only return to the same spot, but extinguish all competitors in its path.
“That loss kept us from going to the state championship game,” said Holmes, whose current team became the first since the 1997 Lions to spend time at No. 1. “You feed off it all year long to make sure we don’t feel that again. That’s what we’ve been doing week-in, week-out, so we don’t have to have that feeling this year.”
The 2012 Lions are the eighth team in school history to reach the state semifinals. Five of the previous seven won, with Holmes being part of the two to come up short. The 1930, 1973 and 1994 Lions teams carried over their semifinals success into the next round, finishing with state titles.
The 1955 Lions lost in the championship game after winning in the semifinals. The 2000 Lions defeated Arlington Lamar in the state semifinals a week before falling to Katy in the Class 5A Division II championship game.
A win Friday ends the 12-year drought of appearing in the finals. Only then can JT attempt to win the school’s fourth championship.
“Just getting there and knowing that if you win the fifth game,” Holmes said, “you get to do what every football player in the state of Texas wants to do, and that’s play for a state championship.”
JT’s championship pedigree means the Lions measure themselves by state titles, not just long runs.
“It means nothing,” Holmes said. “It’s like going to the playoffs and losing in the first round; it’s like not going at all. It’s the same thing if you get to fifth game — yeah you won the first four, but you were at the last game to get to the last game and you come up short. That hurts. It’s one of those feelings you can never get rid of until you get past it.”
JT tripped up consecutive years in the state quarterfinals (2009, 2010) before getting one round further last year. In similar fashion, Guyer lost in consecutive 4A Division I semifinals (2008, 2009) prior to breaking through and reaching the 5A Division II championship game in 2010.
“That’s how we felt last year,” Holmes said. “We’ve been going to the fourth round so long and then we finally go to fifth round. But we were relaxed. We felt like we had accomplished something. In actual reality, we hadn’t accomplished anything. That hits you to the core. … The ultimate accomplishment is getting to the sixth game and winning it. You have to get there Dec. 22.”