For the third consecutive year, the Aledo Bearcats will be facing the Wichita Falls Rider Raiders in a Class 5A playoff game.
But this time the stakes are far higher.
No. 1 Aledo (14-0) and unranked Wichita Falls Rider (9-5) will square off at 8 p.m. today (Friday, Dec. 14) at AT&T Stadium in Arlington in the Class 5A, Division II state semifinals.
The winner will advance to the Dec. 21 Class 5A, Division II state championship game and face the winner of the other semifinal between No. 4 Fort Bend Marshall and Corpus Christi Calallen.
Halfway through the season, the Raiders sported a 1-4 record and were 2-5 after losing a district contest to No. 7 Lubbock Cooper. But since then Rider has won seven consecutive games – including last week’s 38-35 thriller over Cooper – to avenge the district loss and send Rider to the state semifinals.
The past two years the Bearcats and the Raiders have faced each other in early playoff rounds. Last year in the second round, the Bearcats blew past the Raiders, 72-13. The year before Aledo won 63-20 in the opening round.
But Bearcats head coach Steve Wood warns that this year’s Rider team is a completely different team from not only the last two years, but since the beginning of this season.
“Rider had some losses early in the year when they were injured, but now they have everyone healthy,” Wood said. “Their quarterback (Jacob Rodriguez) did not play early in the year. Rider starts about a dozen sophomores who have now grown up.
“It takes a while for new starters to grow up, and they have gotten a whole lot better each week and in every phase of the game. They are a completely different football team than they were the first part of the year, and they are playing with a lot of confidence.
“I had a coach tell me last year that Rider’s freshman class was as good of a freshman class that he had ever seen. And now they are sophomores playing on the varsity.”
Rider runs a spread offense, but Rodriguez is a big part of the Raiders’ running game. The sophomore signal caller gained 283 yards on the ground last week in the Region I final win. Wood said the Raiders like to use Rodriguez on zone reads and quarterback sweeps.
“Rider’s quarterback reminds me of the kid that (El Paso) Del Valle had (Steven Montez) back when we played them in Midland (2014 playoffs) who now starts for Colorado,” Wood said. “Rodriguez is big (6-3, 210) has a lot of confidence and he has weapons around him, so they pose a big threat from an offensive point of view.
“Rodriguez is big and hard to tackle. He runs well, and he throws the ball well – a big-time, dual threat kind of quarterback. Rider has always been what I call a finesse’ team – they will line up in a lot of formations, including some odd-ball formations, trick formations. We will have to be on our toes.”
For the complete advance article see the Dec. 14 issue of The Community News.