At the turn of the century, Aledo and Forney meeting on the football field was an annual occurrence. They played six consecutive seasons from 2000-05, never before and never since, with all six games being predistrict encounters.
The Bearcats won four of the six meetings, with the average score being 16-10. Each team posted a shutout, another game was decided by a touchdown (13-6 Aledo) and another by a field goal (17-14 Forney).
Then, as quickly as they began, the meetings stopped.
Now, the two will face each other once again for the first time in nearly two decades when they tangle Friday night, Dec. 8 at 7:30 p.m. at Midlothian Multi-Purpose Stadium in the Class 5A Division I state semifinals. It will also be the first time they have ever met in the playoffs.
The winner will move on to the play the winner between Brownsville Veterans Memorial (12-2) and Spring Branch Smithson Valley (13-1) in the state championship game on Friday, Dec. 15 at 7 p.m. at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
Aledo sophomore running back Ray Guillory is questionable for Friday’s game. He left the 56-21 victory against Abilene in the Region I final at Tarleton State University in Stephenville with a tweak to his sprained knee. The injury kept him out of the final regular-season game and the playoff opener against Killeen Shoemaker.
In two games plus a quarter in the playoffs, Guillory had rushed 31 times for 434 yards and six touchdowns. Despite missing three complete games and most of last week, he leads the Bearcats with 1,207 yards and 17 TD on 145 carries, along with catching 10 passes for 175 yards and four more TD.
Powerful running games
Both the Bearcats and Jackrabbits have exhibited two of the state’s strongest running games this season. Even with the absence of Guillory for most of last week’s game, Aledo rushed for over 300 yards against Abilene.
Much of that is credited to the running of two seniors, quarterback Hauss Hejny (824 yards) and wide receiver Hawk Patrick-Daniels (579), who has filled in more than suitably when Guillory is out. Patrick-Daniels led the Bearcats in rushing last season when he played the position full-time before moving to receiver this season.
Overall, the Bearcats are averaging 253 yards per game.
Forney averages 231 yards per game on the ground. The vast majority of those yards are coming from running back Javian Osborne, who has gained 2,154 yards and scored 39 touchdowns - 37 of which have come rushing.
“We just have to be where we’re supposed to be and make tackles,” Aledo coach Robby Jones surmised simply.
Much credit has to be given to the offensive lines of both the Bearcats and Jackrabbits. While exact weight averages were unavailable for Forney, both teams have sizes ranging from around 230 to around 300, with Aledo averaging 275 pounds per lineman.
Much credit has to be given to the Bearcats linemen for the protection they have provided this season. Hejny has rarely been sacked and very few times have runners been stopped behind the line of scrimmage.
On the other side, there’s no questioning the protection the Jackrabbits linemen have been providing and the holes they’ve been opening up.
Among state leaders
Osborne, only a sophomore, leads Class 5A Division I in points scored (236) and total touchdowns (39). He is second in rushing yards.
For Aledo, Hejny ranks fourth in 5A Division I in total yards (3,238). Also, kicker Cole Crawford is fifth in kicking points with 80.
Both teams have had some close calls this season, with two of the Jackrabbits’ coming in the playoffs and two against the same team.
The Bearcats needed a last-second field goal to win 48-45 at Class 6A Denton Guyer in a predistrict game. Guyer advanced to the playoffs.
They also needed a late long run TD run by Hejny to avoid being upset by Denton Ryan at home, 25-19, late in the season. Ryan advanced to the second round of the playoffs.
In the regular season, Forney slipped past Lancaster at home 21-20 in overtime. The two met last week in the Region II final, with the Jackrabbits again surviving in double overtime 43-41.
Forney also had a narrow escape against Frisco Lone Star in the second round of the postseason, winning 26-24.
“I always want to beat somebody by four or five touchdowns if I can,” Jones said. “But those tough ballgames, you learn from them, and Region II is a tough region. Those games do make you better.
“It was good that we had that matchup with Denton Ryan.”
The teams have no opponents in common. Coming from different regions, this is not unusual.
However, going back to last season they do have Longview in common. Aledo overcame a 14-3 halftime deficit against the Lobos, who were ranked No. 1 in the state and 14-0 at the time, to win 17-14 in a game that was delayed for more than two hours because of lightning.
Forney’s lone loss this season was 13-7 at home to Longview. The Lobos advanced to the third round of the playoffs this season before getting upset by Lancaster 27-24.
Aledo and Forney both competed in districts that saw a lot of postseason success beyond their own.
The Jackrabbits competed in District 7-5A Division I. From there, Lancaster advanced to the regional final (four rounds), Longview reached the third round and McKinney North reached bidistrict. The overall district record in the playoffs is 9-3.
“It shows that you had to go through some very tough games in district, you’re battle tested,” Jones said. “They had to beat some good teams just to get out of their district.”
The Bearcats competed in District 3-5A Division I. From there, Justin Northwest reached the third round, Ryan reached the second round and Centennial lost in bidistrict. The overall district playoff record is 7-3.
Both teams can score a lot of points. Aledo is outscoring its opponents 50-17 this season, while Forney is outscoring theirs by a 46-16 margin.
In the playoffs, Aledo has a 48-23 scoring advantage per game, compared to Forney’s 44-28.
On the season, each team has topped the 40-point scoring margin 11 times. Aledo reached 70 twice and 60 once, while Forney reached 60 four times.
On the defensive side, Each team posted three shutouts and held five opponents to a touchdown or less.
Typically, great success is connected to an advantage in the takeaway/turnover aspect of the game. Not so with the Bearcats.
Aledo actually has a minus in that category. The Bearcats have surrendered the ball 18 times and have taken it away from opponents only 16 times.
The Jackrabbits, meanwhile, are plus 13 in the category.
However, as Aledo proved last week against Abilene, which entered the contest with a plus-28 in the category, giving up the ball doesn’t mean an automatic score for the opponent. Aledo turned the ball over twice on interceptions and had a takeaway via an interception by Cooper Kohan.
The Bearcats scored after their takeaway and Abilene got no points off of their two takeaways.
“It’s a credit to our defense. Even though we don’t have 30 takeaways, our defense is getting those stops when we do turn it over,” Jones said.
Jones also credited his defense for coming through with big plays when it matters most. For example, they held Abilene to 0-of-3 on fourth down and the Eagles were 1-of-11 on third down.
“It’s making the stops at the right time,” he said. “You’ve got to make plays at the right time.”
It wasn’t that long ago that the Jackrabbits were among the worst teams around. From 2016 to 2020 they were 11-38, including an 0-9 record during the COVID-19 season of 2020.
When current coach Jeff Fleener took the helm in 2021, he inherited a team that was riding a 15-game losing streak. They won their first game under him, 21-20 over Whitehouse, and went on to go 7-4 and reach the playoffs.
They again went to the playoffs last season, finishing 7-4 again, before finding the success of this season.
Raider in college?
While he is best known for his play at linebacker, Davhon Keys makes no secret that he loves running the ball on short yardage plays and scoring touchdowns. With his three against Abilene he has 12 TD on the season, including seven in the playoffs.
"I get into that [Raider] and try to assess my defense. It's fun. I enjoy it," he said. "I've got great guys around me."
Keys has committed to play for LSU next season. When asked if he might get to run the ball in similar situations, he said with a smile, "Tentatively, they're thinking about it."
This will be the 13th time since 2009 the Bearcats are playing in a state semifinal game. They are 11-1 in the previous dozen contests, going on to win state 10 times.
The lone time they did not win in the semifinals was in 2015, when they lost 42-21 to Mansfield Lake Ridge, which then lost the state championship game 56-0 to Richmond George Ranch.
That is the only time in the past 14 seasons in which Aledo did not win state or was eliminated from the postseason by the team that went on to win state.
Unbeaten in Midlothian
Since Midlothian Multi-Purpose Stadium opened in 2006, the Bearcats have had good success there, having yet to lose a game in the facility. This includes three notable playoff victories on their way to state championships.
In 2013, the season the Bearcats set a national record (which they still own) by becoming the only team at any level to score 1,000 points in a season - with Jones as the offensive coordinator - they defeated Ennis 29-6 in the state semifinals. Surprisingly, the game was tied 0-0 at the half as each team had a long possession that took up most of each of the first two quarters.
In 2018 the Bearcats defeated Dallas South Oak Cliff 28-14 in the third round of the playoffs. The game featured a long lightning delay and South Oak Cliff officials wanted to go home and return the next day, while Aledo officials wanted to wait out the delay and return to play. Aledo prevailed and the game was played well into the night.
Last season in the third round, the Bearcats met an undefeated Midlothian team. Aledo trailed 21-14 going into the final quarter before rallying to win 27-21.
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