File Photo: Joseph Nguyen/TexasHSFootball

SPRINGTOWN, Texas — For all the hype Jacksboro High School received during the 2017 football season, district bunkmate Holliday wasn’t too far behind.

The Eagles overcame several rough injuries in key positions, coming out of the regular season with only one loss en route to claiming the 5-3A DII title and topping the Tigers 25-21 in a thriller.

“I thought Jacksboro was going to be good this year. We’ve been fortunate enough to beat them the last three years,” Holliday Head Coach Frank Johnson remarked. “We’ve worked hard since junior high to play catch-up to teams like them or Nocona or Henrietta.”

Holliday’s season got off to a red-hot start after it won its first four games by a combined score of 168-26. Hopes of a first undefeated regular season since 2008, however, were dashed during a loss to 4A Iowa Park — during a matchup marred by key injuries.

“It was a tough non-district schedule I thought,” Johnson recalled. “It was easy enough to win all our games, but also hard enough to lose all our games; overall I thought it would make us a better team. Injuries in the Iowa Park game set us back a little bit, but also made us stronger since we had to overcome adversity.”

Johnson’s son Jett was one of the injuries the Eagles sustained in the Week 5 contest, as the junior quarterback went down with an ACL tear.

Kade Patterson has performed well filling in under center in his place. The senior has completed 28 passes for 473 yards and six touchdowns. The strength of the unit, however, lies with the run game and the Eagles’ primary rusher Justin Jones — a transfer from Archer City that has torched opposing defenses for 1,670 yards and 28 touchdowns in 2017.

“He was one of the best [junior varsity] rushers in the state of Texas,” Johnson boasted. “When you’re blessed to have a running back like that, all you need to do is just give him a crease. He can catch the ball well out of the backfield, and he can block well too.”

The defense has been just as stout, allowing double-digit scoring in only five of their wins, as well as pitching three shutouts. Leading the unit is junior defensive tackle Tanner Bayard, who has stifled opposing offenses well this season with 128 total tackles and 13 sacks.

“Tanner is probably the best defensive tackle I’ve seen in the 29 years I’ve coached,” proclaimed Johnson. “He’s strong, fast, hard to block, and has a great tenacity to get in on every tackle.”

Speaking of strong defensive performances, Johnson was quick to point out the strengths of Gunter’s unit.

“It’s hard to get the outside edge on their linebackers and secondary. They cover everything,” he noted. “They have a tremendous pass stop, and a tremendous run stop. It’s hard to find any weaknesses. I’ve coached in West Texas mostly, they remind me of the good Idalou defenses under Johnny Taylor they’ve had for years.”

The Tigers defense has so far tallied five shutouts on the season while allowing double-digit scoring only four times. They reached this round after holding Daingerfield a single field goal. Gunter is one of the more complete teams in the state as well, with the offense currently averaging 49.25 points per game.

Key to Gunter’s offensive attack is a deep rushing unit, with three players tallying more than 10 touchdowns on the season, as well as a whopping seven rushers with more than 100 yards. The unit is led by junior Dylan Jantz, with 14 touchdowns on 720 yards. Other names to look out for include Daylan Bower (600 yards, 12 TDs), Peyton Lowe (338 yards, 10 TDs) and Braiden Clopton (507 yards, 9 TDs).

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