After Rough Start to the Season, Mount Pleasant is Relishing First Playoff Berth Since 2012
Corey Homer knows what it's like to make the playoffs wearing the Mount Pleasant black and gold. He did it as a player twice under Marc McDaniel during one of the Tigers' most successful periods in school history.
A little less than 20 years later, Homer took over the program for which he once played, and now he has Mount Pleasant back in the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
"There's a difference in the air here now," said Homer, whose team faces Highland Park at 1 p.m. Saturday at The Star in Frisco. "It's a great day to be a Mount Pleasant Tiger. Our kids are excited, our fans our excited ... the whole school is excited."
The road to this point has certainly had its bumps. Mount Pleasant lost its first five games, including a four-point overtime loss to Hallsville to open District 16-5A, before winning three of its next five. The Tigers' 3-3 record in district put them third in the standings and they'll play the Class 5A Division I playoffs as the district's second seed.
It would be easy to pack your things and close up shop after an 0-5 start, but Homer said he and his assistant coaches worked hard to keep their players excited, help them improve and stick with it to get the wins they needed. He even got some feedback about that from his old high school coach.
"I was having lunch with Coach McDaniel (Monday) and he told me, 'I thought you did a great job in keeping the interest level high from your kids at that point of being 1-5 and then having to go play Marshall and Texas High,'" Homer said. "We just kept preaching to the kids about believing, improving and giving your greatest effort."
After a 30-21 win over Pine Tree on Sept. 30, Mount Pleasant then had to take on Marshall and state-ranked Texas High in back-to-back weeks. While the Tigers came out of the two games on the losing end -- and now with a 1-7 record -- they came out of the losses by a combined 47 points, compared to 86 in 2015.
It was then that Homer saw the turning point in his team's season.
"We lost both of those, but the way our kids played those two games, I was so proud. We had 290 yards on the ground against that Marshall defense," Homer said. "It was then that our kids started believing that we can do this and the only person standing in the way is ourselves."
Needing to win its next two games to get in the postseason, Mount Pleasant answered the call against Sulphur Springs (19-16) and ended the season with a convincing 44-21 win over Greenville.
"It was very gratifying in the fact that we went out and took care of business," Homer said. "We could have come out off a bye week, shot ourselves in the foot and look rusty, but we went out and took care of business. The difference this year is that we were playing for something and our kids were excited that they had put themselves in that position."
Now Highland Park stands in the way. It may not exactly be David vs. Goliath, but it's close. The Scots are in the playoffs for the 22nd consecutive time and took a share of the District 15-5A championship despite ending the regular season with a 20-9 loss to Wylie East.
Highland Park (8-2), as usual, boasts a stellar passing offense. Quarterback John Stephen Jones threw for 2,107 yards, 17 touchdowns and four interceptions during the regular season, and he's found 10 different receivers for touchdowns this year. The Scots are led on the ground by Jack Kozmetsky, who rushed 115 times for 639 yards and nine touchdowns in the regular season.
Mount Pleasant is the complete opposite. The Tigers have attempted just over 100 passes this season, while running backs Dorian Glinton (124 carries, 868 yards, 10 touchdowns) and Ja'Kerris Lee (69 carries, 587 yards, six touchdowns) are the anchors of the offense.
So, ball control is key.
"When we traded film I asked for the Wylie East film. It was their last district ballgame and Wylie East was able to do some things to them that we need to be able to do," Homer said. "You can tell they were slow, methodical and were able to eat up precious time on the clock against a high-octane, explosive offense. Our kids understand that a 10- to 15-play drive and taking eight minutes off the clock is huge, and that's what we need to do."
No matter what the outcome is on Saturday, Homer said he's proud of the foundation that's being laid at his alma mater and is looking forward to what the future holds.
"I had a great experience here as a high school player, and I want the kids in Mount Pleasant to experience what I got to experience," Homer said. "I want them to experience the same type of high school mystique that I had. This means so much to me because this is my home."
But, of course, an upset against a program like Highland Park would certainly be one to remember.
"I told the kids during preseason that they needed to play with a chip on their shoulder because we're not going to get any respect from anyone in the Metroplex. It's been a bumpy road but we were 3-3 in district and now we're here," Homer said. "We're going to go out and get after you, and that's going to be our attitude all this week."