For coaches and teams, playoff rematches have an oddly familiar feel

3:32 p.m Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017 High School Sports
Hendrickson quarterback Blaine Barker tumbles into the end zone last week, scoring one of his three rushing touchdowns against Garland Sachse in a Class 6A, Division I third-round playoff. The Hawks topped previously unbeaten Sachse 42-35 to advance to a state quarterfinal against Cedar Ridge, their District 13-6A rival.

Chip Killian knows Cedar Ridge’s football team has what he describes as “an extremely dynamic” offense that’s one of the more balanced attacks in the state.

He also knows the Raiders play “very aggressive defense” and have held four of their past five foes to fewer than 20 points

Frankly, Killian just knows Cedar Ridge.

And he should. Since Cedar Ridge began playing varsity football in 2012, Killian has coached Hendrickson’s team against them in district contests every season. The Hawks won the first three games in the series but have dropped the past three, including a 43-27 loss in the fifth week of this season. The Raiders overcame three non-offensive touchdowns by Hendrickson in that game and held the Hawks to 194 yards of offense.

The District 13-6A rivals will meet again Saturday in a Class 6A, Division I state quarterfinal at The Pfield in Pflugerville, but both Killian and his coaching counterpart at Cedar Ridge, Sam Robinson, said the result of their game in late September won’t matter as much as the current state of each squad.

“When they played us, they were 2-2 and didn’t seem to be playing with that confidence,” Robinson said, “but coaches know that 2-2 record didn’t mean that much based on who they lost to. Now, they’re on a roll and really playing well.”

Robinson was referring to Hendrickson’s brutal non-district schedule that included losses to Lake Travis — another 6A, Division I quarterfinalist — and Smithson Valley. In the end, though, those games steeled Hendrickson for its longest playoff run since the Hawks reached the Class 4A state quarterfinals in 2008, Killian’s first season at the school.

“People are always worried about records,” Killian said before referring to Hendrickson’s third-round playoff opponent, which entered last week’s game against the Hawks without a loss before falling 42-35. “Ask Garland Sachse how much that means.”

In particular, quarterback Blaine Barker has picked up his play for a Hendrickson offense that Killian said has just two full-time senior starters. A junior, Barker completed all 13 of his passes for 163 yards and a touchdown against Sache, and he added another 84 yards and three TDs rushing.

“Blaine has done a good job of settling in and running the offense,” Killian said. “What’s the term they use? Game manager? That seems to insult everyone because it doesn’t take into account how athletic and explosive a player can be, but that’s what Blaine has done for us.”

In the Hawks’ earlier loss to Cedar Ridge, Barker threw three interceptions while completing 14 of 30 passes, but Robinson shrugged off that stat-line.

“Any time a team gets beat,” Robinson said, “they’ll probably be making more adjustments than the team that won so we’re not expecting to see the same thing. … One thing I do know is that since our kids beat them, they won’t be intimidated.”

While postseason rematches have been common this fall for area teams, they remain a rarity overall.

Before 2017, Robinson said, he hadn’t faced a team twice in a season since serving as an assistant coach for Hereford during a postseason loss to Wolfforth Frenship in 2005. Killian, who makes a concerted effort to schedule non-district games against programs from different UIL regions, also has never taken on a team twice in the same season as a head coach.

“But sometimes, you just can’t avoid them,” said first-year Liberty Hill coach Jeff Walker, whose team will face its second consecutive District 13-4A, Division I rival Friday, when the Panthers play Waco La Vega in a state quarterfinal. “To win state — and that’s our goal — you have to play these teams. We knew we’d see them again; this district is one of the best in the state. You don’t get to choose who you play.”

Last week, Liberty Hill beat China Spring for the second time this season. Now, the Panthers get a second sho at unbeaten La Vega, which defeated Liberty Hill 33-18 in mid-October.

While Walker said he’ll tweak his game plan for the rematch, he doesn’t plan to veer too far from a scheme that has landed the Panthers in a regional final.

“We’re going to do what we’ve done to get here,” said Walker, who couldn’t recall coaching in any previous same-season rematches. “A key could be not to overcoach them, I guess.”

Lake Travis coach Hank Carter apparently holds the secret to winning postseason rematches.

A year ago, the Cavaliers beat district rival Westlake twice during a run to a Class 6A, Division I championship, and this year’s Lake Travis squad avenged a season-opening loss to Converse Judson in the second round of the playoffs. During Carter’s eight-year tenure as head coach, Lake Travis has won all six of its playoff rematches.

But don’t think Carter enjoys seeing quality teams for a second time in the same season.

“Usually, my description is ‘Again?’ ” he said. “I don’t like playing teams too many times, but sometimes it’s unavoidable.”

Carter did point out that coaching staffs usually have more time to prepare for postseason opponents. Instead of spending several nights coaching sub-varsity teams or watching middle school games, Carter said, his coaches “are not rushed and just have more time” to break down film and draw up game plans once the regular season ends.

Carter’s successful track record in postseason rematches prompted Killeen to give him a call earlier this week. If anything, the conversation gave Killian some encouragement going into the Hawks’ rematch against Cedar Ridge.

“When it’s two evenly matched teams, I think more pressure can be on the team that won the first time,” Carter said. “The other team will usually make more adjustments than the team that won. And if you lost, you know what doesn’t work.”

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