Tough schedule has prepared Gladewater for impressive playoff run
Dec. 3, 2013 at 10 p.m.
GLADEWATER - Being the underdog and playing with their backs against the wall is nothing new for the Gladewater Bears.
Both of those again will be the case when the Bears face 13-0 Argyle at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Kincaide Stadium in Dallas.
"We are the underdog every week," Gladewater senior linebacker Hagen Cooper said. "We know we have to play hard.
"We've played a lot of the top teams in the state, and we are prepared. We know that no matter who we play, it will be hard for them to be better than the teams we've already played."
Gladewater's schedule included games with Daingerfield, Kilgore and Chapel Hill, which are all still alive in the playoffs, as well as Gilmer and Athens.
"I think the game that helped us the most was Kilgore," senior offensive lineman Justin Stadtfeld said. "They have one of the best defenses in the state. They also have a great offense, and we held them below 30 points."
The Bears have won four straight games after a three-game losing streak that forced them into a must-win situation in the season finale against Henderson. Gladewater entered that contest having to win by at least 14 points or hope for Spring Hill to defeat Bullard.
Gladewater scored 21 points in the fourth quarter to take a 49-42 win over Henderson, and Spring Hill also won against Bullard to help the Bears clinch the fourth and final playoff spot from District 16-3A, also known as "The District of Doom."
"We knew with the teams in our district, it would basically be like the playoffs from the word go," Gladewater head coach Jerrod Baugh said. "Our first district game was against Gilmer, and it was like a playoff atmosphere. Our district definitely prepared us for the playoffs."
"We've come back in the fourth quarter of several games," Cooper said. "We know that if we continue to play hard and never give up, we will have a chance to win."
Cooper and Stadtfeld are two of just six seniors for the Bears, who have even counted on production from a freshman - running back Darnell McKnight - late in the season.
"Being the only senior on the offense, it's my job to keep the younger guys calm," Stadfeldt said. "We know that whoever is out there, they are going to get the job done. Sometimes we need Daylon (Mack) to come in and get a big fourth down, and we also have a freshman who has made some big runs"
"We knew going in that we were going to be young and inexperienced and have a lot of room for growth," Baugh said. "I'm not surprised we are playing our best football right now, and it's a good time to be doing it."
Gladewater, which just knocked off undefeated Gainesville by a score of 24-17, will face another unbeaten team. Argyle is coming off a 45-38 win over Gladewater's district mate Gilmer.
"They are a lot like Chapel Hill," Gladewater head coach Jerrod Baugh said. "They have some really good skill players, and their offensive line is solid. Scheme wise, both teams are similar, and we know they can score quick. Defensively, they are solid. They like to press coverage, so it makes it hard on the receivers. They also get after you on the line of scrimmage and make it hard to run.
"Gilmer is one of the best teams I've seen, and for Argyle to go and beat them, you know they are solid."
No matter what happens for the Bears, they have received extra practice time and games against some of the state's top competition, which could be invaluable moving forward.
"I think the biggest bonus, in terms of the long run, is that we get to continue to practice and play against good people," Baugh said. "In my last two years at Longview, we played 32 ball games, which is basically three seasons worth in a span of two seasons. You can't replace that experience.
"And in the lower classifications where we don't have spring football, this is really good for us, especially for the younger kids. It's something we should benefit from long term."
A big key for the Bears will be continued success in the ground game. Gladewater is averaging 364 rushing yards per game in the playoffs, and they've done it with a collection of six different running backs - James Reese, Marcello Jackson, Daryl Polk, Justice Centers, Mack and McKnight - along with quarterback Nick Canaguier.
"All of our guys are capable of running for 75 yards minimum," Stadtfeld said. "We know we have some of the top rushers in the state, so it's our job on the line to give them room to run."
The winner between Gladewater and Argyle will advance to the state semifinals to face either Graham or Shallowater.
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