By DAVID CLAYBOURN
Every high school football team expects to do well before the season starts.
But the Leonard Tigers have exceeded expectations with their climb to the Class 2A Division II state semifinals. The 11-3 Tigers will play 14-0 Cisco at 4 p.m. Saturday at Chisholm Trail Stadium, which is in the Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD but is located on Northwest College Drive in Fort Worth.
The winner of that game advances to the state finals against either Waskom or Refugio or at 8 p.m. Thursday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
“You have dreams of being where we are each season,” said Leonard head coach Shane Fletcher. “But until it’s reality, then it hits you in the face. We’re just grateful being where we’re at.”
After going 7-3-1 and reaching the bi-district playoffs in 2012, the Tigers were picked to finish second in District 7-2A. They finished third behind S&S Consolidated and Gunter.
But the Tigers picked up steam once the playoffs started, being Edgewood 43-36 in overtime, Blooming Grove 35-21, S&S 55-44 and Cooper 28-20 on Saturday in Royse City. S&S and Cooper were both undefeated before losing to the Tigers.
Fletcher said the Tigers continue to improve with each outing.
“Their football IQ is just high,” he said. “Our kids are smart and we ask them to play several positions. They don’t let things bother them. They just keep on rolling. They just keep getting better the longer we play.”
Fletcher said the Tigers’ playoff success “says a lot” about Leonard’s team chemistry.
“We’re all like a family,” said standout lineman Dylan Pelton. “We’re all bonded together. We call each other family. I really stick by that.”
“We have a great team chemistry,” said senior quarterback Justin Bennett. “We’ve always had it since two-a-days (preseason practices).”
Bennett said the Tigers’ season has been “great.”
“A good way to end a career, going out with a bang,” he said.
Leonard’s standout running back Solomon Titus said this season’s been “like a dream.”
“I knew we were good,” he said. “Everybody doubted us. We proved everybody wrong.”
Titus has been a force in the playoffs, rushing for 175 yards against Edgewood, 255 versus Blooming Grove, 125 against S&S and 194 in the win over Cooper.
“I improved my game because I know fully what I can really do,” he said.
Leonard’s facing a Cisco team that has outscored the opposition by an average margin of 50-12. Abernathy has played Cisco the closest, falling by 27 points (41-14) in the quarterfinals. Cisco won its other playoff games by margins of 54-10 over Stanton, 37-6 over Spearman and 42-14 on Monday over Canadian.
“They are blue collar, tough West Texas kids,” said Fletcher. “They’re going to formation you to death just like we do.”
Fletcher said the Loboes aren’t as fast as the Cooper Bulldogs.
“Just solid football players and they’re well-coached. They’ve been to the state championship game four times since since 2000. Hadn’t won it but they were there.”
Either Leonard or Cisco will realize one more dream by reaching next week’s state finals.