Mineola Goes For State Championship Game Berth Against Program In Its Second Varsity Season
Mineola pulled away from AT&T Stadium disappointed about the outcome of the 2014 Class 3A Division I state championship game between it and Cameron Yoe.
At the same time, with essential players all over the field in that game being sophomores, there probably was some comfort that only the first window of opportunity had shut.
"Any time you've got that experience, it's going to be good for you," Yellowjackets head coach Joe Drennon said. "These kids we've got playing for us right now just are juniors mostly. Some of those guys have been starting for us since they were freshmen. They've played an awful lot over the past few years. They've been in the playoffs all three years of their careers. Same with the sophomores.
"The experience of last year shows at times this year. They knew what to do at times to win. It's hard to replace those moments."
Mineola, meet a strikingly similar team. It's Brock from the brushlands just west of Weatherford.
The Yellowjackets (14-0) and Brock (14-0) will meet at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Class 3A Division I state semifinals inside Grand Prairie's Gopher-Warrior Bowl with a state championship berth on the line. Brock was one point and nine seconds shy of getting this opportunity with the Yellowjackets last year, falling to Shallowater on a two-point conversion.
Just like last season for Mineola, this will be Brock's first semifinals appearance. But this milestone comes in just its second season of UIL football participation.
The crazy thing is Brock's fairly senior-loaded roster largely has a one-season advantage in favor of the Yellowjackets in terms of experience.
While Brock shocked Texas with a 12-2 record right out of the gate -- and although that certainly is a positive sign for what this program could continue evolving into as early as Friday -- it's not as jaw-dropping as it seems. It was a long wait though.
Brock's players have been active since 2010, following a school board vote to double down on a historically strong basketball school with a football team. It started solely with middle schools teams. Sub-varsity teams and 'outlaw' schedules in 2012 and 2013 against other non-UIL schools followed.
A lot of formerly young players picked up a lot of reps ahead of UIL ball. Then they rode their own experience to an immediate state quarterfinals appearance.
Brock came back with a vengeance after graduating two seniors from a 20-man roster and adding 14 more players. It only allowed seven points through its five non-district games and to this day has never given up more than 19 points on defense through a contest.
"They play extremely hard," Drennon said. "We've already talked to our kids that they're not going to get on a block, knock them down and then go onto the next one. These guys will get up and chase the football. They play really fast, they're well-coached, they know their assignments and there's no wasted motion out of them. They do a great job of just defending you. They've got just got good kids out there.
"It's going to be a good challenge for us. But, you know, I still think we're pretty good on offense. It ought to be a great battle."
If anyone can break Brock's defensive average of 7.3 points per game and its 19-point cap, this is the team.
Mineola junior quarterback Jeremiah Crawford could become East Texas' leading rusher this season with 202 yards, surpassing Keenen Johnson's 2,669 yards for an eliminated Alto squad.
Crawford rushed for more than 300 yards and four touchdowns last week in the Yellowjackets' 45-28 win against Sunnyvale and has hit 200 yards or more in three of four playoff games.
Junior running back Chantz Perkins isn't far behind. He has a regional seventh-best 1,911 rushing yards and 26 scores through 14 games.
Furthermore, Brock just has not seen two SEC-caliber offensive linemen on the same team before. Mineola's twin offensive tackles Austin Anderson and Riley Anderson, both somewhat rare seniors and Texas A&M commitments.
"They're great kids," Drennon said. "First, they're just good people. They've got great work ethic. Everyone knows it, everyone sees it and they feed off it. But they're very good at what they do or they wouldn't be going to A&M to play football next year. They're great leaders for our kids, they live their lives the right way, they do everything the way you're supposed to do it and it's paying off for them. So, I'm proud for those guys."
The offensive line at large has been a strength of the team, but Drennon particularly likes to identify a receiving corps that doesn't get many touches as it would like this late in the season.
"Our offensive line has been doing an outstanding job for us," the head coach said. "Of course, Jeremiah and Chantz are really good at what they do as well. It's just kind of been a team thing. What a lot of people don't notice about us is our receivers. When they're not getting the ball thrown to them, they do an outstanding job. Coach (Brian) Pullum does a great job with them and the fact they take care of business down the field. We tell them, you just never know where Jeremiah, Chantz or whoever comes out the football and cuts that thing across the field -- They might be the guy getting them into the end zone."
The Yellowjackets' defense also has shown its worth through the playoffs. Long gone are questions about a front that partially had to be rebuilt from last season's state championship appearance.
Paired with a secondary that retained everything from 2014, the defense actually willed Mineola to an area round win against Whitesboro in a difficult game for the cohorts on offense.
But for all the perceived strengths, Mineola is running into a team as perfect record wise. With meaningful experiences of its own.
A rematch with Cameron Yoe in the state championship game is still in the realm of possibilities, but Brock has waited an awfully long time in its own right for a date with destiny.
"I think our kids do an outstanding job of taking it one game at a time while knowing what the ultimate goal is," Drennon said. "But I do think they do an outstanding job of taking it one game at a time and not getting ahead of themselves. If we don't take care of business this week, we won't be there next week. There is that anticipation, we're awfully close right now. But there is one big step to go."