District champions square off in first round
CLASS 3A, D-I BI-DISTRICT
7:30 P.M. FRIDAY, MEMORIAL STADIUM, VICTORIA
• Radio: El Campo, KULP, 1390 AM; La Grange, KBUK, 104.9 FM
• Tickets: $7
El Campo and La Grange won their respective district championships.
Their reward is the opportunity to play each other in the first round of the Class 3A, Division I playoffs.
El Campo (10-0) and La Grange (8-2) will meet in a bi-district game Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Memorial Stadium in Victoria.
"It kind of seems like our first-round draws at El Campo have always been tough and La Grange is no different," said El Campo coach Bob Gillis. "We've been through this before when we were in Class 4A. We felt we were one of the best teams in the region playing one of the best teams in the region."
"In Division I that's what you get," agreed La Grange coach Matt Kates. "The good thing is in Division I you have to win five games instead of six to win a state championship. We know we're going to have to beat a really good team at some point."
Neither El Campo nor La Grange expected to face off in postseason play.
The scenario changed when Gonzales and Giddings failed to make the playoffs out of District 26-3A, pushing the Leopards into Division I.
"Both Gonzales and Giddings were good football teams," Kates said. "It just shows how even our district was. You had to be ready to play every week. It was unbelievably tough, but we knew whoever came out would be battle tested."
El Campo understood it would be headed to Division I after dropping from Class 4A. The Ricebirds have the largest enrollment in District 25-3A.
"It feels like people are watching us more and they expect more out of us," said senior defensive back Michael Wall. "To me, it doesn't feel different because I'm just playing football and football is football."
The Ricebirds have performed well enough to go undefeated in the regular season for the second time in the last three years.
"I thought there were some ups and downs a little bit," Gillis said. "Our whole deal is we don't want any highs or real lows and that's what we always tell them. Sometimes we played really well and sometimes we played OK. You can't gripe about being undefeated in district."
El Campo's success comes as no surprise to Kates, who was an assistant at La Marque in 2003 when the Cougars defeated El Campo 32-7 in the quarterfinals before winning the Class 4A, Division II state championship.
"We have a little familiarity with the Ricebirds," Kates said. "They do what they always do. If it ain't broke don't fix it. Good coaches win games for a reason."
Gillis appreciates the success Kates has had at La Grange.
"I think they're a very good football team," Gillis said. "They're solid and can run the ball and throw the ball equally well and play good defense."
La Grange had its eight-game winning streak snapped last week in a 21-13 loss to Cuero.
The Gobblers were able to control the ball and Kates expects El Campo to utilize a similar approach.
"That's what both of us want to do," he said. "It comes down to who can run the ball on offense and who can stop the run on defense. It will be a battle of wills and who is the more physical football team."
The Ricebirds have no inclination to back down.
"We always get stuck with a hard first-round team," Wall said. "We've just got to get past that to test our will. We've got to keep going and play hard. We've got to show people what Ricebird football is."
NOTES • La Grange will be the home team.
• The winner will advance to the regional round against the winner of Friday's Boerne-Somerset game.