Heat on as Cats prep for district
Two weeks ago the De Soto football team saw what can happen when it all works.
Friday the team saw what happens when it doesn't.
De Soto couldn't run or pass with consistency and its defense sprung enough leaks to flood a small country as the Cats fell 43-13 at Gardner.
With district play starting Friday against Baldwin, they are out of time to fix their problems.
Fortunately for De Soto, the team is confident -- despite Friday's final score -- counting those mistakes can be done without removing any cleats.
"Our kids have got to understand when you play good football teams, it comes down to one or two plays," De Soto coach Brad Scott said. "If someone else makes them, you aren't going to win. I hope we learned that lesson."
Singling those errors out in Friday's game requires looking at both sides of the ball.
Defensively, Scott was quick to point to the first play on Gardner's second first-quarter possession.
It came after De Soto first stonewalled the Trailblazers on defense, then clobbered them with a long drive capped by a 10-yard Shane Miller touchdown run.
Gardner took that play 85-yards for a game-tying and momentum-adjusting touchdown. The end around run by Isaac Mallory came as one Cat was burned in the backfield, one tackler stifled near the line of scrimmage and the rest of the team toasted in its tracks.
"If we don't give up that play -- which we are calling from our sideline -- it's a different ballgame," Scott said.
Gardner wasn't nearly as quick to give the momentum back, plugging in two more touchdowns before half.
De Soto had a chance to tie the game again, 14-14, but a fourth-and-nine pass from Erik Hill to Jamel Townsend was broken up in the corner of the endzone.
The Blazers answered with their third touchdown, a 46-yard pass from senior quarterback Zach Carlton to Justice Berry.
"Then," Scott said, continuing, "if we convert on our chance to tie it before half, I think it's a different ballgame."
Gardner got 68 yards on 19 carries from junior running back Dominique Peoples. Mixed with persistent runs and elusive scrambles from Carlton -- 58 yards on 10 attempts -- and a few gamebreaking passes, the Trailblazers' offense kept De Soto at arms length.
The Wildcats had trouble slowing the Blazer defense in the second half, too. The Cats confusing option attack had been a big help in achieving the team's then-4-1 record, but Friday Gardner defensive linemen consistently penetrated the Cat backfield. Hill and running backs Miller and Dylan Burford often couldn't even get through the normal array of fakes before having to fend off tacklers.
De Soto ended the game with 60 yards on 35 carries. Gardner had 319 on 46. The Cats ran without Mark England for much of the game, eliminating one of the four ground threats that has made the offense so potent all season.
"Part of the problem is when England, who is arguably one of our best ballplayers, is out, we have a hard time. Our rotation is off," Scott said. "He's such a threat on the perimeter and at defensive back and we are still not good enough to absorb injuries like that.
"Until we do that, we won't be ready to take the next step."
Scott said Tuesday England's status for Friday's game against Baldwin remained in doubt. He went on to say missing one player won't serve as an excuse for the loss at Gardner, and it can't serve as one against Baldwin, either.
There should be no shortage of emotion Friday as the Cats celebrate senior night. De Soto will say goodbye to seven seniors, and in that group is enough experience to know how important the first game of district play is.
De Soto, which also shares its district with Eudora and Spring Hill for the second consecutive season, beat Baldwin last year for a quick start, but stumbled first against Eudora, and later in a playoff-denying loss against Spring Hill.
Only two teams advance from each district to the postseason. De Soto will be playing to be included for the first time since 2004.
"Against Louisburg we had growing pains. We corrected them against Paola. We had growing pains again (Friday), and we need to correct them," Scott said. "We got up for homecoming (against Paola), came out and played great. Hopefully we can do it again for senior night.
"They know how important the game is. We've been preaching it since the season ended last year. You really want to start district play 1-0 and make everyone chase you."