WALL, TX — Houston Guy has his Wall Hawks exactly where he thought they should be going into their toughest stretch of the season. Impressive wins against 10th ranked rival Mason, 7th ranked Cisco, and 4-2 Clyde have them off to a 6-0 start and a share of the 3-3A district lead.
The success they have had is not unexpected, though, and the historical power is not satisfied.
"We feel like this is where we should have been. We feel like we had a chance to be 6-0 at this point in time and we feel like we played pretty good football up until now, but I think we can play better," Guy said on Monday. "We're sitting at 6-0 and there are areas where we can definitely improve. There’s things we can do to get better that’s for sure."
The culture Guy has established in Wall during his tenure is one that creates success year after year. His kids are confident in their ability, but they are not arrogant or entitled to win. Since 2010, Wall is 105-17. The only time they finished the season with less than eleven wins was last years 9-3 campaign.
Despite this success, Wall has never won a state championship and have only competed for it once. They made it to the championship game in 2013, but the 15-0 team fell to Cameron Yoe 35-14.
Their upcoming two games will be a proving ground for whether or not they have the skill to win it for the first time.
The first of which is a mighty test against undefeated Jim Ned in Tuscola near Abilene on Friday. The Indians ran roughshod against the 4-3A district early in the season by beating Coleman, Anson, and Merkel by a combined point differential of 158-0. In week four, they beat now 4-2 Mason 28-19. The Punchers are the only common opponent between Wall and Jim Ned so far, and both teams handed them their only losses of the season.
After that game, Jim Ned defeated Brady and Breckenridge to become the 6-0 team that stands in Wall's way this week.
The Indians have a high powered offense that spreads the field and then runs it down your throat. Quarterback Dylan Martin has thrown for 1,002 yards while completing 70% of his pass attempts. He has also thrown 10 touchdowns to only 2 interceptions.
Martin is a threat through the air, but Head Coach Matt Fanning tries not to rely on him too much. Instead, the offensive focal point has been a running game powered primarily by three different backs. Reese Hayes, Riley Perry, and Xavier Wishert have combined for 1,264 yards and 22 touchdowns on 145 carries between them. Those numbers are split evenly between them, too. Individually, Hayes leads with 462 yards, but Perry and Wishert are right behind him with 417 and 385, respectively.
All three have led the team in rushing during a game, and all three have a game with over 110 yards. Defenses cannot game plan for just one of them, because all three can have a devastating effect on a game.
The good news for Wall fans is they have one of the best defenses in the area. They are experienced, smart, and ridiculously athletic. The most points they have allowed this season was 14 against Midland Christian. They shut them out in the second half.
"They're very fast. They're very quick. They're very aggressive, and they're very well coached," Guy said. "The defensive coaches on that side of the ball do a great job with them. I think the team speed overall, defensively, most of those guys can run, most of those guys are very fast, but I think having the coaches to get them in the right spots at the right time is a key factor in that."
They also have an abundance of senior leadership that helps keep the younger kids motivated to get better and accountable when they mess up.
The head coach praised seniors Colton Diebitsch (safety) and Joe Walker (defensive end) as those types of players, saying, "A coach can get so much done, but when a senior steps in that they respect and that they follow, he can get a whole lot more accomplished by his words. On defense we have guys like Colton Diebitsch. He's a senior leader for us in the secondary. He does a great job defensively. Joe Walker on the defensive side of the ball is another defensive leader that those guys really respect and listen to a lot."
"When those guys talk, everybody listens. Those guys don't just talk the talk but they walk the walk. Those guys put in the time in the summer. They put in a lot of hours up here, and those guys that are following them know it, and so they'll follow them anywhere."
When speaking about the success they've had, rising star Bryson Ballard gave all the credit to the coaches, "It's the coaching. We're always really prepared for every week. Coach gives us a great game plan, and then we just go out and execute it." Ballard was named Wall's defensive player of the week by his coaches for his standout performance against Clyde. He finished with 10 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, and a forced fumble.
Jim Ned will, without a doubt, be their toughest challenge in the toughest environment yet. The Hawks know what is at stake.
"There's a lot of intensity [in the locker room]. We know this is going to be a really big game. They know its going to be big especially at their place. We got to come really prepared, amped up, and bring the energy to them," senior quarterback Mason Fuchs said. "It will be a hostile environment. I think it will be a really good game. Hard fought, but I feel like if we control what we need to control we’ll be fine."
Strategically, Coach Guy is looking to control the game clock with his offense and keep Jim Ned's off the field.
"We need it to be a slugfest. We need it to be a low scoring defensive battle. We need to make sure that they don't get up and score four or five touchdowns. One of the things we can do to limit that is keep their offense off the field. That's going to be key for us. They have a high powered offense that can put points on the board and score a lot of points pretty quickly, so we would like to limit that offense and the best way to do that is keep them on the sideline."
"They are a good team," Ballard commented. "They have a lot of good people that can get the ball. Their quarterback is good, their running back is good. We're just going to have to do what Coach Slaughter [defensive coordinator] tells us to do and just stop them."
The game kicks off in Tuscola Friday night at 7:30 and Guy is expected a big turnout, "It will be a hyped up football game. That Jim Ned crowd is going to be rowdy and loud. It'll be packed over there on there sideline, and they'll be doing that tomahawk chop and they'll be fired up and ready to go."