GRAHAM, Texas — Some will say it’s not how a team starts the season that matters, it’s how they finish. In the case of both the Abilene Wylie Bulldogs and Decatur Eagles, their seasons are not over, but they’re in a different spot now than where they were heading into district competition.
The Bulldogs endured rough back-to-back losses — a one point loss to Denison followed by a 56-7 defeat to Argyle — but did gain some momentum and confidence with a big win over Brownfield before 3-4A DI play began.
Once district play did kick off, Wylie was on a mission with dominant wins over Brownwood, Big Spring and Snyder by a combined 114 points, setting themselves up for a bout with Stephenville for the district title.
“We played some really good teams; I think we had a successful non-district,” said longtime Wylie coach Hugh Sandifer. “We played through some injuries, especially in the Denison and Argyle games, but we played against good teams who prepared us well for district.”
The season finale didn’t go the way Wylie would’ve liked, losing to the Yellow Jackets by 13; however the playoffs are a whole different beast, a chance to shake things off and start anew. The Bulldogs have the offense to do just that, hoping for another shot at a state title with an offense averaging 33.4 points per game.
“We had a big triple overtime win over Brownwood,” remarked Sandifer. “It was an exciting win for us, and we were able to win the remainder of the district games up until Stephenville.”
The Bulldogs offense has been guided well by signal-caller Sam King, having completed 1,221 yards and 18 touchdowns so far this season —nine of those touchdown tosses were completed to Gatlin Martin to go along with 613 yards receiving. Cason Grant also performs well on the ground, racking up 625 yards and seven scores.
Decatur also entered district play with a 3-2 record, and even took a couple shots with losses to solid Wichita Falls Hirschi and Argyle teams, but rebounded to storm into a playoff spot with big wins over Gainesville, Burkburnett and Sanger by a combined 199 points.
“I don’t know if you could find a team who played a tougher 10 game schedule than we did,” Decatur coach Mike Fuller proclaimed.
Junior signal-caller Wilson Hicks continues to shine, having totaled 2,964 yards and 28 touchdowns through the regular season. The Eagles run game is led by A.J. Martinez, one of the better sophomores in the region with 1,001 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2017. Hicks also contributes well in the run game, recording 297 yards and 10 scores.
Hicks also benefits from a deep and talented receiver corps, with six Eagles at more than 250 yards; that group is led by Mario Reyes with 753 yards and 11 scores on 41 catches. All of this adds up to an explosive offense which has tallied 60 or more points five times on the season, averaging 45.5 points per game.
“We’re an up-tempo offense, we try to go really fast,” said Fuller. “When we focus on that and moving the chains, we can be pretty explosive. We don’t focus too much on trying to get the ball to one particular person, just where the grass is.”
Wylie and Decatur have matched up seven times since 1987, with the last meeting occurring in 2007. The Eagles have played under five head coaches since the first meeting, but Sandifer has guided the Bulldogs through every matchup.
“We’ve had some big ones,” recalled the coach. “Had a thrilling one point win over them in the third round when we won our state title, and they beat us pretty handily in non-district prior to that. We’ve always had good matchups with them, they’ve always been very good and we know this year’s team is no exception.”
“All we’re playing is this year’s team, that’s what we’re focusing on,” Fuller said. “They’re a sound team, they have playmakers offensively who do a good job of mixing up formations. Defensively they tackle really well, a good trait to have on that side.”
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