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Rivals El Campo, Wharton compete for district, county supremacy (video)

By Keldy Ortiz
Oct. 17, 2013 at 5:17 a.m.
Updated Oct. 18, 2013 at 5:18 a.m.

El Campo  defensive back Koy Kresta practices at Ricebird Stadium in El Campo.

EL CAMPO - Koy Kresta knew the journey for El Campo to be successful again wouldn't be an easy one.

At Ricebird Stadium, two billboards are posted in recognition of the Ricebirds' previous success: a pair of Class 3A state finals appearances in 1967 and in 2012.

Though the Ricebirds (4-1, 1-1) could be a long way from adding a third billboard, they have to contend with District 25-3A and undefeated county rival Wharton (7-0, 3-0) on Friday night.

"It's one of our biggest rivals for sure," the senior said. "They always bring it when they play us. They would probably rather go 1-9 and beat El Campo than win any other games. It's a lot to say, but that's probably the truth."

The teams reside 16 miles from each other. The Ricebirds understand what's at stake. A loss to the Tigers could endanger their chances of repeating as district champions.

"We kind of have our backs against the wall. We lost one district game; they haven't lost any," said Ricebirds coach Bob Gillis, who is in his 16th year with the team. "We certainly don't want our backs against the wall going down two district losses. It's important for us and our program, just as it is for Wharton."

The Ricebirds were victorious over the Tigers last season on their way to completing a nearly perfect season. That perfection ended in a Class 3A Division I state championship game loss to Stephenville 70-35. Before getting past the Tigers last season, however, the Ricebirds were down 10-0. The Ricebirds won the game 17-10.

"We went into the game believing we could win," second-year Tigers coach Tim Finn said. "The fact that both teams are doing well makes it fun. I hope the game lives up to the billing."

After the loss to the Ricebirds last season, the Tigers moved on to the area playoffs but fell to Navarro 37-22. They finished the season 8-4.

This season, the Tigers are off to a perfect start and lead the district.

A win against the Ricebirds on Friday and Bellville the following week could put the Tigers in a good position to claim the district championship.

Finn said the Tigers hope to have similar success as their county rival.

"What El Campo has and people strive for is tradition," Finn said. "We're striving for that."

Luck was not in the Ricebirds' favor this season, as lightning canceled their game against Foster. That forced them to have a three-week layoff between games before playing Bellville, a game El Campo lost 24-21.

The Ricebirds are a lot different this season. Only returning three starters, they moved senior B.J. Flagg to running back.

For Flagg, it's a task he has accepted, as he leads the team in rushing yards with 774.

"I'm starting to get better and better," Flagg said. "I just got to work harder on hitting holes faster. There ain't too much pressure."

Gillis doesn't want his team to think ahead. The Ricebirds need to continue winning to keep their district title chances alive.

"After all the hype and all the excitement - a big crowd and everything - it really comes down to just a football game," Gillis said. "We've talked about Wharton is a big game, but we've still got three games left. There's still a lot of football games left."

Kresta, along with other seniors, will have one more chance to beat the team's county rival. But the Ricebirds are looking at Friday night as just another game.

"No matter what kind of team we have, no matter what kind of players we have, we're going to play as hard as we can," Kresta said.

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