The name on the front of the jerseys is the same, but the football team wearing them at Regents is far different than the one that played for a TAPPS Division II state championship in 2016.
A new group of Knights have written the latest chapter for a storied program, one they hope has an ending as different as their roster in 2017.
“This is not a revenge thing at all,” said Regents coach Beck Brydon, who has his team in a sixth state championship game since the Knights jumped from six-man to 11-man football in 2004. “If anything, they’ve had a chip on their shoulder to show that this group can be as good as that group.”
The Knights came excruciatingly close to winning their third TAPPS 11-man title last fall, when a failed two-point conversion attempt allowed Grapevine Faith Christian to take a 30-29 victory.
Regents (13-0) will face Cedar Hill Trinity Christian (11-1) at 7 p.m. Friday at Waco Midway High School, the same championship site as last year.
To get back, the Knights had to replace 10 starters gone from an offense that averaged 43.4 points per game. Star running back Conner Allen moved to Highland Park, and quarterback Jace Franklin and wide receiver Russell Hine — now a linebacker at Texas — both graduated, as did the entire offensive line.
Brydon and his staff had to retool and rethink.
“Running the same things we did last year and expecting the same results would be somewhat ludicrous,” he said.
This year’s Regents team is much more deliberate, relying on long, sustained drives rather than big-yardage plays. Sophomore quarterback Wilson Long (2,685 yards passing, 925 yards rushing, 39 total touchdowns) leads an attack that averages 39 points per game.
“We appreciate four yards (a play) this year,” Brydon said.
The Knights’ opponents, meanwhile, have struggled to gain much of anything this fall. Regents boasts five shutouts and allows 7.6 points per contest. They beat Hyde Park 30-8 last week in a state semifinal. The defensive unit is much more experienced, with defensive end Cal Long, a Navy pledge, and defensive backs Alex Hartman and Danny Phillips providing leadership.
They’ll face their toughest test yet in the Tigers, whom Brydon describes as “fast, fast and if I haven’t said it, fast.”
“This team has some guys that can absolutely go,” he added. “They had quite a few kids transfer in that really helped the team rebound from being a .500 team last year.”
Trinity Christian has a pair of 1,000-yard rushers, Qualan Jones and Maurice Washington, who have combined for 30 touchdowns on the ground. Washington, an Under Armour All-American, also has a team-high 512 receiving yards.
Brydon said his team will have to play “solid, fundamental, football,” but that a few explosive plays might be necessary to put points on the board. And if it comes down to a final play like last year, Brydon said he won’t be afraid to pull the trigger if he thinks it is what his team needs.
“I will make that decision at the time based on the circumstances and the ethos of the game,” he said. “If we’ve come from behind, if we were way ahead and we gave up a lead, if kids are hurt, if we’re hanging on, if we’ve got the momentum on our side, all of those are factors that help me decide.”