Center Looks to Keep the Momentum Going After All But Securing Playoff Spot in District of Doom
Barry Bowman knows what it's like to win. More importantly, what it takes to win.
Bowman was at the helm in one of the most dominant runs by a team in Texas history when Daingerfield went 44-3 over three seasons and ended each one with a state championship.
It's been six years since Bowman won his last state title in Daingerfield. Now he finds himself in Center and in the process of trying to build the Roughriders program into one of the premier institutions in East Texas.
The kicker? He's doing so while the Roughriders are playing in the District of Doom, which boasts three teams -- Carthage, Kilgore and Henderson -- that have either played for or won a state championship in the past six years.
"That kind of thing doesn't happen overnight, and there's no substitute for work," Bowman said. "I'm very proud of where we are in a short period of time. The kids are buying in. We've just got to go out and play."
Bowman's team entered 2016 with a young squad after going 10-3 in 2015, a season that ended to eventual state champion Gilmer in the regional round. And young or not, Center had its hands full coming into this season -- Gilmer and Gladewater were on its non-district schedule followed by the District of Doom.
To make things even tougher, Center wouldn't have its bye week until the last week of the regular season.
"It's been a brutal grind with such a young team, but I'm really proud of how we've been able to handle it so far," Bowman said.
Bowman has to be happy. Despite two losses to Gilmer and Gladewater in non-district, Center has since won four in a row and the first three games on its District 9-4A Division I schedule. The Roughriders are coming off a 35-28 overtime win over Chapel Hill last week that, barring anything crazy, means they're postseason bound.
"(Last week) was huge. We were up 21-0 at halftime and we let them back in it, which can't happen, but it did," Bowman said. "Our quarterback (Kyle Parks) tweaked his ankle a little bit and that took some of our run game away. They made a play or two, got momentum going and we couldn't stop that snowball effect. But fortunately we were able to survive overtime and come out with a win. I'm really proud of how we responded."
Despite being practically brand new on the offensive and defensive lines, Center has been able to put up some solid numbers so far in 2016. Parks, a senior, and senior receiver Octavius Evans are the most dangerous aspects of the Roughriders' offense. Parks has thrown for 1,285 yards with 11 touchdowns and three interceptions in seven games, with 44 of his 96 completions going to Evans for 535 yards and four touchdowns.
Defensively, linebacker Adrian Johnson has been the beast on command. Through seven games he has recorded 80 tackles, 24 tackles for loss, nine sacks, three caused fumbles and an interception.
"We've thrown the ball well over 100 times this year and have only given up eight or 10 sacks, which I'm really proud of since we're so brand new on the offensive line," Bowman said. "On defense we're just as new everywhere except in the secondary. But (defensive coordinator) Coach (Jimmy) Irvin has figured out a way to get those guys going."
Now we come to undoubtedly the biggest test(s) of Center's season. The Roughriders will end their run of 10 consecutive games at Carthage on Friday night, followed by a home game against No. 6 Gilmer and then closing it out at Kilgore.
Center, which has just one win against Carthage over the past 12 meetings, faces a Bulldogs team that is riding an unusual two-game losing skid after the Bulldogs dropped back-to-back games against Henderson (36-28) and Kilgore (41-34).
While a lot of the talk around this game is Bowman and Carthage coach Scott Surratt's combined seven state championships, Bowman said he's only worried about the scoreboard Friday night.
"First of all, neither one of us play in the game. Our mindset for the kids is to get them to understand that's the level of play where we're trying to take our program, and our kids are making steps toward that," Bowman said. "We went 10-3 last year and then to turn around the second year after graduating some key guys to get in a playoff spot, that's where we need to be. We've just got to go out and play, not be intimidated, scared or worry about their billboard signs going into town. It's one play at a time for 48 minutes, no matter how cliche it sounds."