By JUSTIN RAINS
Looking at the Palestine football team’s non-district schedule heading into the 2012 season, seeing the Wildcats come out of it at 4-2 would do nothing but inspire confidence for Palestine fans.
After non-district play, 4-2 is exactly where the Wildcats find themselves and, yet, there’s a sense that things could’ve gone a little better.
There was the almost upset of then-eighth-ranked La Vega, and the loss to Chapel Hill, easily Palestine’s worst performance so far of 2012.
Still, 4-2 is 4-2, and PHS coach Lance Angel and his squad are happy with it.
“Obviously there are a couple of games we’d like to have back, but for the most part there is some confidence and the kids are confident,” he said. “We’re hoping we can carry those emotions into district.”
For the other four teams in District 19-3A, district play starts tonight, when Fairfield (3-3) and Rusk (4-2) square-off and Groesbeck (4-2) takes on Mexia (0-6).
For Palestine (4-2), tonight is a time to relax and prepare for the final push toward the postseason.
With only four district games instead of the customary five, the chance to overcome mistakes is shortened, Angel said, making every district contest a big one.
“I think it’s big to start well,” Angel said. “Obviously we’re going to be a game behind everybody. It’s important to win that first one, especially in a five-team district because there’s not a lot of room. You can’t afford to start out in a hole.”
The game will be made even bigger because the Wildcats welcome in Rusk, which will either be riding the high of taking down two-time defending district champion Fairfield, or backed into a corner after losing its district-opener.
Asked to look back on his favorite development so far of 2012, Angel never hesitated in his answer: It’s the play of his team’s defense.
The Wildcats are giving up 17 points per game so far this season. At this point last season, opposing offenses were scoring at an almost 26 points per game pace.
The feat is even more impressive when considered its come against teams like La Vega, Jacksonville and Chapel Hill.
“The defense has been the story of the year for us, and just the improvement of the defense,” Angel said. “That helps us with not having pressure to score every single possession.”
Offensively, the Wildcats are still running on all cylinders, despite breaking in a new quarterback.
Angel said he’s been more than pleased with how well sophomore Gee Clark has played only four starts into his high school career.
Looking at both Clark’s play on the field and his numbers, it’s easy to see why.
On the year, he’s thrown for 580 yards and five touchdowns, both numbers good enough for second in the area among 11-man quarterbacks.
But, Angel said neither he nor Clark are satisfied. Both know Clark can keep improving.
“He’s done well and he knows, as well as we do, that there are still things that he can get better at,” Angel said. “He’s done a good job and we’re just excited to see how he progresses going forward.”
While it might seem unfair to some to give Clark yet another weapon, he may get an addition to his offensive backfield for district play.
Angel said that running back Jarrell Owens, who has been battling a nagging leg injury for most of the season, is coming along nicely in his rehab, and he expects the big junior on the field for the Rusk game.
That’ll only add more depth to an offense that is currently averaging more than 350 yards per game, and has three running backs (Jadarrius Beasley, Ben Luckett and Darrius Stephens) with at least 295 yards rushing this season.