Hughes Springs Looks to Keep the Pedal Down Heading into Area Round
Hughes Springs did nothing short of take care of business in non-district to start the season. The Mustangs reeled off five straight heading into its bye week, right before district play started.
Then a wheel or two fell off in back-to-back losses to White Oak and Jefferson.
"Coaches and players, I think we kind of relaxed a little bit there," Hughes Springs coach Chris Edwards said on Tuesday. "We were playing as well as we could at that point, but after that off week White Oak kicked our tail. And we beat Jefferson all over the field except on the scoreboard because we had five fumbles and an interception. It was time to refocus."
That point has been well-received over the last four weeks. Hughes Springs (9-2) hasn't lost since Jefferson and has averaged nearly 48 points per game in the process. The Mustangs are coming off a 27-0 shutout -- their first of the season -- of defending Class 3A Division I state champion Mineola in the bi-district round of the playoffs and face Grandview at 2:30 p.m. Friday at Mesquite Memorial Stadium.
Edwards said he was proud of how his team responded after those two losses, and last week's win over Mineola showed just how dangerous his team can be during "the third season," as he calls it.
"I saw that sense of urgency last week that you have to have in playoff football. They played like every snap and every play matters. You can't take anything for granted at this point," Edwards said. "It feels like it might be the start of something special."
Every high school football team dreams of playing during Thanksgiving, and Hughes Springs is one of 31 East Texas schools with that honor this week. It's a time of family and camaraderie and Edwards said that's the best thing that stands out about this year's Mustangs team, especially after missing the playoffs in 2016.
"It makes life fun as a football coach when you don't have to coach hustle, paying attention or getting after it," Edwards said. "The exact message I give these guys is believe in each other, believe in your coaching staff and believe in yourself. It's all about the team in everything we do. It's not about me, it's about we."
Hughes Springs takes one of the area's top rushing attacks into Friday's game, having put up 4,149 yards on the ground through 11 games (377.2 yards per game). Senior Tradarian Craver has rushed for 1,482 yards and 17 touchdowns, while four other Mustangs have at least 400 yards and three touchdowns rushing this season.
It's not only a testament to the number of weapons on the team, but an undervalued offensive line, Edwards said.
"Our offensive line is our unsung hero on this team. We're undersized but they're smart guys," said Edwards, who added that all of his linemen are under 200 pounds. "They're technique-oriented and that benefits us more than anything else. It's a lost art in some people's book."
Edwards said his offensive line taking on Grandview's defensive front will be the story of the game on Friday. The Zebras (10-1) have allowed seven or fewer points seven times this season, including four shutouts.
"They are a well-oiled machine," Edwards said. "Their defense creates turnovers and that's the big play for them. If we can't control the line of scrimmage like we've done this season, with our size disadvantage, it's going to be a tough game. If we can't move them, we tie them. That's a win for us."
Defensively, the Mustangs will take on an offense that has scored fewer than 31 points just once this season and has reached 79 and 84 points, respectively, in two wins.
"Our message is to keep playing, try to limit the big plays and get in position to get turnovers and be opportunistic when it does happen," Edwards said. "When they make mistakes we have to take advantage of it."