One opponent worries John Tyler head coach Ricklan Holmes more than any other. Not top-ranked Pearland Dawson. Not state-ranked Lancaster, who handed JT its lone loss.
Not even unbeaten Whitehouse, the next opponent on JT’s radar.
Instead, Holmes considers his Lions their own biggest obstacle as JT attempts to outperform recent teams, a pair of state quarterfinalists in 2009 and 2010, and last year’s state semifinalists.
The Lions made it easy on themselves again with Friday’s 50-7 win over Nacogdoches, their 19th consecutive district victory.
JT holds the No. 2 ranking in the Class 4A after the ninth week of the high school football season. The Lions now look to prove they are not second-best when it comes to District 16-4A, not to mention Smith County.
In its biggest challenge since non-district, the Lions (8-1, 4-0 in 16-4A) take on Whitehouse (9-0, 4-0) for the district title Friday at Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium. JT sports a 25-3 against Class 4A teams since dropping in classification, and has won three consecutive district titles.
“The first nine games were a test for us,” said Holmes, whose team has outscored opponents 207-28 in four district games, and his holding teams to 12.7 points per game on the year. “Now we’re going into game No. 10 and were going to “treat it like we did game No. 1: to make sure we beat John Tyler high school and not the team we’re playing.
“As long as we keep trying to beat ourselves and not the opposing team, were going to have a successful season.”
The JT defense turned over another leaf against Nacogdoches. The Lions forced a season-high seven turnovers, running their takeaway total to 25 through nine games.
Tyus Bowser recovered two fumbles and notched a sack. Richard Gipson made 12 tackles and recovered a fumble. JT intercepted three passes.
The Lions passing attack generated 309 yards and four TDs. Senior quarterback Greg Ward has completed 135 of 198 passes (68 percent) for 2,148 yards with 24 TDs and no interceptions in nine games.
JT meets a Whitehouse team with a potent passing attack of its own, one responsible for seven throwing TDs in a 54-28 win over Corsicana Friday.
“I tell everybody in Tyler, Texas to come enjoy the game Friday,” Holmes said. “It’s going to be a lot of excitement. It’s going to be a packed house and I expect a great game out of us and Whitehouse.”
Final score: John Tyler 50, Nacogdoches 7.
Turning point: JT converted three Nacogdoches turnovers into touchdowns during a third-quarter outburst that featured 29 points in a seven-minute span.
The game was over when: Tyus Bowser recovered his first of two fumbles, and JT scored two plays later on a 1-yard run by Justice Liggins for a 35-7 lead midway through the third quarter.
Key stats: JT held Nacogdoches to 14 total yards in the third quarter,
Warning signs: JT’s rushing attack took a step back, finishing with 110 yards on 29 carries (3.8 average). JT fumbled away possession on its first rush of the second half, giving winless Nacogdoches the ball in Lion territory down only 14 points at the time.
Plus signs: The Lions’ passing attack and defense continue to play at a championship-caliber level. JT finished with four TD receptions and held Nacogdoches to 210 total yards.
What this win means: JT can prepare for tougher matchups from here on, after wins over three teams with losing records.
Fast forward: Regardless of Friday’s outcome between JT and Whitehouse, the Lions will be the No. 1 seed in the Class 4A Division I bracket, and draw the second seed from District 15-4A. Lancaster (5-1), Ennis (5-1) and Red Oak (5-1) have all clinched spots, with the final berth up for grabs between Waxahachie (3-3), Mansfield Summit (3-3) and Seguin (2-4). If Seguin gets in (by defeating Red Oak, and having Summit lose to Lancaster and Waxahachie fall to Ennis), it will bump Lancaster to Division I. Otherwise Red Oak and either Summit or Waxahachie will represent 15-4A in Division I. Waxahachie holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over Summit.