After running the table with a 10-0 record in 2017, which included a 10th consecutive district championship, the Class 5A, Division II defending champions and top-ranked Aledo Bearcats will begin their state-title defense today against the Wichita Falls Rider Raiders from District 5-5A.
The bi-district game kickoff will be at 7 p.m. today at Saginaw High School.
The winner will advance to the area championship and face the winner of the Grapevine/Fort Worth Young Men’s Leadership Academy bi-district game.
The Bearcats and the Raiders faced each other in last year’s first-round, with Aledo cruising to a 63-20 win.
Rider comes into the contest with a 5-5 record. The teams shared a common opponent this season, Mansfield Legacy. The Bearcats defeated Legacy, 24-3, while Rider fell to the Broncos, 35-14.
Rider is led offensively by quarterback Jorge Vargas, who has completed 142 of 235 passes for 2,293 yards, 10 touchdowns and two interceptions. His favorite target is receiver Jake Edgemon with 53 receptions for 1,055 yards and 15 TDs.
The Raiders’ leading rusher is running back Brandon Bolton with 185 carries for 874 yards and 13 touchdowns.
“Rider has a big ol’ quarterback who can throw the ball, and they have really good speed out wide (at receiver),” Bearcats head coach Steve Wood said. “We kind of got exposed a little in that area (in the district-finale win over Boswell last week) so I would think they would take some of Boswell’s game plan and try to come attack us that way.
“They have a good running back and a big offensive line, and they have put up a lot of points this year. But they also have given up some points.”
The Bearcats were burned for a long pass last week against Boswell, and several times missed tackles. Wood assured those problems were taken care of in practice this week.
“We just have to play better defense, keep them in front of us,” he said. “We gave up the deep ball (against Boswell) and we missed tackles on a short pass that they ran for a touchdown. We had plenty of things happen that Rider will try to use against us.”
Rider runs a spread offense and in the last 10 games has rushed the ball 60 percent of the time. In last year’s playoff game against Aledo, Rider threw out a few gadget plays.
“Rider will be multiple offensively, and they will throw a lot of tricks at us,” Wood said. “We also expect them to throw some new wrinkles at us. They have a lot of offense.
“The quarterback looks like he is about 6-3, 220 pounds, and he is strong. He is not extremely fast, but he sees the field well and manages to get out of tackles and make something happen with his feet. His favorite receiver is Edgemon; they will throw the ball deep to him, and they will throw short passes to him and let him make something out of it. We have to know where he is on every snap.”
Rider runs a 3-4 defense. Wood said the Raiders possess size on the defensive line, and has an active middle linebacker, Jarrett Hilley, who leads Rider with 91 tackles.
“Defensively, Rider is talented up front,” Wood said. “Their nose guard is a big, physical kid, and they have two big defensive ends. I think we can run the football on them, and we are going to have to be able to. We are going to have to do a better job both blocking and running the football than we did against Boswell.
“Offensively, we just have to execute. We have to do a better job blocking, and we have to a better job of running the football. (Sophomore quarterback) Jake (Bishop) did well in the passing game (against Boswell) but we threw two picks (interceptions) and we can’t turn the ball over against Rider.
“We dropped a pitch, and we had some untimely penalties the other night. It is hard to overcome a first and 20 and we have to stay away from that this week.”
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