Tradition Rich: Lions delight with another title run

Published on Saturday, 15 December 2012 23:37 - Written by Harold Wilson

You often hear the phrase “wait ‘til next year” when a promising season ends. For John Tyler’s championship-caliber football team, 2012 was supposed to be that year, until a 57-53 loss to Denton Guyer in the Class 4A Division I state semifinals postponed title hopes another season.

With 17 players back with starting experience, the Lions looked capable of finishing the course after reaching the state semifinals in 2011.

The first year of the Ricklan Holmes “New Era” will be remembered, however, for a promising journey halted one stop before the final destination. While coming up short, John Tyler went down swinging, better yet throwing, putting the ball in the air 65 times in the best passing showcase in school history.

The 2012 John Tyler team copied the journey of the school’s last state champion most of the year, even trying to mimic the famous comeback win over Plano East during the 1994 season. JT’s big-play ability matched the ’94 team, just not on the defensive side when it counted most.

While JT allowed 27 points in a span of 2:12 to lose a 41-17 lead against Plano East, the Lions scored twice on defense in the game. After Rod Dunn’s 97-yard kickoff return for the go-ahead score, JT sealed the 48-44 win with a game-ending interception by Morris Anderson.

A failure to get enough stops ultimately caused JT’s title run to stop. In the process, an old reality reared its head, the one that suggests offense wins games and defense wins championships.

JT’s impressive striking unit, which totaled 677 yards, 33 first downs, and an amazing 36 points in a span of six minutes and 28 seconds in the fourth quarter, positioned the Lions to play for a state championship game.

Not counting Noe Diaz’ onside proficiency, two of the few times JT stopped Guyer, the Lions lacked the defensive firepower to blaze the necessary trail into Cowboys Stadium. Guyer gave JT fits with its rushing attack, chewing up 596 yards and eight TDs on the ground, including the game-winning romp with 74 seconds left to pull out a thrilling win over the Lions at Midlothian Multi-Purpose Stadium.

The Lions nearly completed another comeback for the ages like the ’94 JT-Plano East game garnering an ESPY award for Showstopper of the Year. JT led by 24 points with 3:03 left before Plano East scored four touchdowns, recovering three onside kicks along the way, to take a remarkable 44-41 lead with 24 seconds left.

Guyer accomplished a similar feat, losing a big lead but getting it back before the final buzzer. The fourth quarter proved a game-within-a-game:

*63 combined points in the final quarter and 50 points total in the last 6:51

*1,345 combined yards (723 rushing, 622 passing) by the two teams

* 659 total yards and six TDs by JT quarterback Greg Ward, including a school-record 550 yards passing with five scores

*308 yards and four TDs rushing by Denton Guyer quarterback Jerrod Heard

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The Lions scored 22 points in 74 seconds to take a shocking 53-50 lead with 3:44 remaining. After falling behind 43-24 with 6:51 remaining, JT struck for a one-play drive on Ward’s 65-yard TD pass to Justice Liggins.

The Lions just missed getting the onside kick, and Guyer made JT pay with a quick score to make it 50-31 at the 6:00 mark.

JT used a pair TD passes from Ward to DeQuante Woods, coupled with two successful onside kicks, to find themselves suddenly driving for the lead. Tyus Bowser helped JT claim a three-point lead with a 1-yard run and two-point conversion, leaving the game in the hands of the JT defense.

Guyer answered with a game-winning drive, with Heard completing a pass on a clutch fourth-down play along the way.

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Under former head coach Allen Wilson, who coached JT to its last state title in 1994, the Lions usually dominated the line of scrimmage, even though the passing game left much to be desired.

The last five years marked the best offensive stretch in JT history, with the Lions rewriting most records, including passing yards (4,254) and passing TDs (44) in 2012. JT averaged more than 41 points in three of the last four seasons.

But as the JT offense progressed, the team’s past physical nature regressed. To get back to being Lion Kings, as in state champions, JT needs to become stronger overall, as three of the last four playoff losses to power-oriented attacks such as Klein (2009), Waco Midway (2011) and Guyer revealed.

The senior class for the Lions leave a legacy to be remembered. Nine three-year varsity performers played on title contenders, including a state quarterfinalist in 2010.

The Lions lose eight starters on offense and nine on defense. Key performers graduating include QB Greg Ward (5,053 yards total offense, 56 TDs), WR Fred Ross (2,160 all-purpose yards, 25 TDs), WR/CB Darion Flowers (1,143 yards, 9 TDs receiving/42 tackles, 3 INTs), RB/LB DeQuante Woods (1,128 all-purpose yards/59 tackles, INT/17 total TDs), WR Justice Liggins (689 yards, 7 TDs receiving), ATH Tyus Bowser (22 sacks, six caused fumbles/129 yards total offense/4 total TDs) and LB Richard Gipson (132 tackles, four fumble recoveries).

“You’re talking about going at least four deep every year, and two years in a row, five,” Holmes said of the core members of the senior class. “We have to reload and come back at it next year.”

The JT freshmen featured a deep class full of potential. The JT junior varsity finished 9-1 and won the district title, making Holmes optimistic in keeping the Cujo tradition moving forward.

“I’ve got a great freshman class that came in and my JV is loaded,” Holmes said. “We’ll be loaded next year. We just want to thank everyone for supporting us all season. We’ll get back at it next year.”