Written by Matt Wixon
Wixon: Make no mistake, turnovers help turn the tides in playoffs
Mesquite Poteet was a combined 1-19 the last two seasons, and I'm sure the Pirates are sick of hearing about that. But when you follow up one win in two seasons with a run to the Class 4A Division II state semifinals, it needs to be mentioned.
And, of course, the question needs to be asked:
What caused one of the most dramatic turnarounds ever?
One reason is a new coaching staff, with former Lone Oak coach Randy Jackson at the top. Poteet players are now more prepared to win and believe they can win. Another reason is how Poteet has cashed in on opponents' mistakes this year.
"When people ask how this happened," Jackson said, "I get to the turnovers real quick."
It's pretty amazing. Poteet (12-2), which plays defending 4A Division II state champion Aledo (14-0) on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Mansfield's Vernon Newsom Stadium, has intercepted 28 passes and recovered 16 fumbles this season. That's 44 takeaways - an average of three per game.
"I think whatever you emphasize is what your kids will be good at," Jackson said. "We've got signs everywhere saying let's get 50."
During this year's high-scoring playoffs, the signs could refer to points. In the 16 regional finals of 4A and 5A last week, the winning team scored an average of 39 points. Defense may win championships, but offenses are landing most of the blows even in the later rounds of the playoffs.
But when those offenses miss with a big punch, the defenses need to make them pay.
"I think the modern spread offenses are a little loose with the football," Jackson said. "We throw the ball around, but we're going to be careful. We're going to protect the football."
Most of the teams that didn't protect it well last week are now done. Mesquite Horn, with a dynamite offense that helped it advance four rounds in 5A Division II, turned the ball over five times in a 28-14 loss to Longview. And although Wylie committed three turnovers last week, its season was saved by a turnover with less than five minutes remaining.
As Wylie linebacker Matt Sandgren tackled a Tyler John Tyler receiver 1 yard from a touchdown, he stripped the ball loose and Wylie got possession after the ball rolled through the end zone. Instead of being down 10 points, Wylie was down three and had the ball back. The Pirates then scored with a minute left to earn a 20-16 win.
"That play," Wylie coach Bill Howard said, "it extended our season."
Takeaways often do that. Bastrop piled up 37 first downs and 623 yards against Poteet last week, but Poteet didn't have a turnover and Bastrop had three. Poteet won, 42-35.
The team that makes the fewest mistakes usually moves on. That's one reason why Poteet has a chance to knock off Aledo, which has won 27 straight games.
"If we can keep it close, our kids are used to that," Jackson said. "And then if we can force a key turnover ..."
Then Poteet has a chance to push its amazing ride to the finish line.