New Cast of Playmakers Fuels Tenaha’s State Championship Return
TENAHA -- When the class of 2012 graduated from Tenaha High School, the Tiger football team lost more than just Texas Tech-bound Reginald Davis.
There's no doubt the 6-foot-1, 185-pound do-everything quarterback was the engine to Tenaha's undefeated 2011 Class A Division II state championship team. He accounted for 3,920 total yards of offense and 59 total touchdowns and had a virtuoso performance -- 314 all-purpose yards, 242 rushing yards, six total touchdowns -- in the 52-28 title game victory over Munday.
But Davis left only one of several holes Tenaha had to fill this season. Tenaha's top three receivers in 2011 -- Octavius Griffith, Shaq Mitchell, and Demon Horton -- scored 27 total touchdowns. Veteran defenders Jorge Campos and LaDarren Cooks combined for 167 tackles, 11 sacks, and six fumble recoveries. Junior defensive back Assuntay Cleaver, who had two interceptions in the championship game to earn Defensive MVP honors, moved during the summer.
In other words, Tenaha's second consecutive Class A Division II state championship appearance -- noon Thurday against, again, Munday (14-0) at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington -- has come with mostly a new cast of playmakers.
"I've got four new coaches on staff, too. It's definitely been a completely different year than last year," said Tenaha head coach Terry Ward. "Last year, we knew we had the talent. We just had to coach 'em up and get them on the field and make sure they did it right. This year, we've had to father them along a little bit, we've had to mentor them, we've had to keep their morale up, we've had to be counselors. We've had to make them understand and see the big picture. When we lose a game or whatever, they get emotional, and it's just a matter of staying the course and looking at the big picture.
"Last year we talked about winning the state championship from the get-to. This time it was, 'Let's get better this week, let's get better this day.' Didn't wanna overwhelm them. We just wanted to keep them in the moment and kinda see where it took us."
That process has taken the Tigers to the final week of the 2012 Texas high school football season. It wouldn't have been possible without a bevy of juniors and sophomores who have stepped up at the spots vacated by the Reginald Davises and Tavi Griffiths and other veteran playmakers.
Junior quarterback J.R. Hill has thrown for 1,557 yards, 19 touchdowns, and 18 interceptions, while rushing for 609 yards and three touchdowns. Junior receiver Keontas Davis, who also leads the Tigers with eight interceptions, has a team-high 48 catches for 975 yards and 13 touchdowns. Sophomore Cobe Caraway, who ran for 171 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries in a 42-14 state semifinal blowout of Falls City, is second on the team with 765 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. He also has 66 tackles, two interceptions, and four fumble recoveries.
"It wasn't hard replacing them. We just needed people to step up in those places and that's what's been happening," Keontas Davis said. "J.R. having to step up and play quarterback (after) playing receiver last year. Having Chavis and Cobe in the backfield, they're getting more shine this year sharing the carries. It's a good experience."
With perhaps the most unenviable task in 1A football, Hill has responded, allowing Tenaha fans to perhaps not forget Reginald Davis, but realize that they've got a new quarterback with his own set of skills.
"Coming into the year I had a conversation with J.R., 'You're not Reginald Davis. Don't try to be Reginald Davis. Just be yourself. Just do what you can do. That's all I want you to do, is be the best person you can be,'" Ward said. "Over these 14 games he has matured and stepped up and he's played really good."
"People wanted me to play just like he would last year, but I had to get to my comfortable stage where I could play the best that I can," Hill added.
Tenaha's list of non-senior standouts seems unending.
Sophomores T.J. Thomas and De'Andre Thomas have combined for 672 yards from scrimmage and four touchdown catches, as well as seven sacks and four interceptions. Junior defensive lineman Denzel Williams is among East Texas' leaders with 13 sacks. Classmates Tyre Barnes, Jacobi Ivy, and Brady Tovar have combined for 10 sacks.
But don't forget about the man who isn't one of Tenaha's four seniors, even if it seems like he is after playing such a huge part of last year's championship: Chavis Gregory.
Tenaha's leading rusher is also one of its most versatile players.
"He's quiet. He doesn't say a whole lot, but his actions are on the field," Ward said. "We've asked him to do some things offensively that we didn't ask last year. We've put him at the quarterback position a little bit. He's definitely been a big key in what we've done."
Gregory enters Thursday's state title game with 1,465 rushing yards and 24 total touchdowns. Defensively, he's complemented leading tackler and senior stalwart De'Aaron Roland with 62 tackles, four sacks, an interception, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery.
Gregory, who has also blocked one kick, has seven 100-yard rushing games and five three-touchdown performances.
Gregory had a string of five consecutive 100-yard games broken against Falls City, which held him to 81 yards on 20 carries. Caraway picked up the slack.
"We gave him the ball and he made huge plays for us," Ward said of the sophomore. "When you've got young kids that wanna play and they try hard, it's rewarding."
"We just have to step up and just take leadership and come up and just try to be playmakers for the rest of the team," Caraway said. "We're young. We've got two more years to go, but we're trying to come up and do the best that we can."
Whether Caraway or Davis or Gregory or Hill or any of the myriad non-seniors who have made play after play in 2012 for the up-and-coming Tigers, they all seem ready for Thursday's challenge, especially since they ride an eight-game winning streak into the title bout. Tenaha throttled Munday in 2011 behind Reginald Davis' huge performance, leading 52-21 until the game's final play cut the victory margin to 24 points.
This time around, Munday is the undefeated team with the Division I-bound senior athlete playing quarterback: Dee Paul, who recently decommitted from SMU and holds additional offers from Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.
Gregory is cautiously optimistic.
"I feel like we can beat them again if we just come out and play," Gregory said. "But if we don't come out and play, it's gonna be a long day."