Written by Matt Wixon
Wixon: Wylie happy to be underdog again with Tyler John Tyler its next opponent
WYLIE - The inflatable entry tunnel is a menacing-looking skull with an eye patch. Add in the skull-and-crossbones flags that are waved as the Wylie players storm on to the field and the team's mascot is pretty clear.
But if only a dog could be included in the dramatic entry. Maybe one that's fierce and determined, yet a little undersized and easy to overlook.
"I like being an underdog," senior outside linebacker Tyler Mathers said. "It just feels good when you win when you're not supposed to."
Like in 2004, when Wylie finished second in its district and then advanced four rounds in the Class 4A playoffs. Like in 2005, when Wylie was third in its district and then went four rounds in the playoffs. And like in 2008, when Wylie finished third in its district and then knocked off Cedar Hill and Copperas Cove and advanced to the 5A Division II title game.
Wylie is always competitive, always dangerous, always a tough team to knock out. But Wylie often flies - I guess "cruises" is more appropriate for Pirates - under the playoff radar. The Pirates are perennial underdogs, or at least perceived that way.
Wylie will be in the same role Friday, although it gets to play its 4A Division I regional final at home. Wylie (10-3), which finished second in District 10-4A, takes on Tyler John Tyler (12-1), which has been on a roll since opening the season with a loss to 5A power Lufkin.
Wylie won't be intimidated, however, and it won't mind the underdog role.
"We're smaller than a lot of teams, and we don't have big superstars," said senior receiver Jermaine Merdock, "so people pick the other teams over us."
But there's good reason to pick Wylie, the lone survivor from 10-4A. The Pirates always get up for playoff games, which shows in their 16-5 playoff record since 2003. Wylie also has a strong defense that has allowed an average of 14 points during a seven-game win streak.
Wylie also embraces the team concept like few others.
"The key ingredient in all good football teams is chemistry," said Bill Howard, Wylie's coach since 2006. "Football is a game of inches, and chemistry is a big inch."
Coaches often mention team chemistry, but it's hard to pinpoint the effect on most teams. That's not the case at Wylie, which finished 3-7 last year and missed the playoffs. That team was talented, but it lacked the togetherness that was a key ingredient in Wylie's other playoff runs.
This year's team is a lot less selfish, offensive lineman Ethan Lington said, and that has made the season more successful. More fun, too, which usually coincides with winning streaks and playing in December.
"We think we can do anything together," Howard said. "When you're together and you have faith, it keeps you on a more even keel and you have a better chance in the fourth quarter."
It also helps Wylie responds well to adversity, which came the Pirates' way last week when West Mesquite took a quick 7-0 lead. Wylie responded by scoring 31 of the next 34 points in a 38-30 win at Cowboys Stadium.
"The chemistry is incredible," senior quarterback Nico Ramirez said. "We've all got each other's back."
And that might give Wylie, whether it's a favorite or underdog, the ability to play a few more weeks.
"The best ability is dependability," Ramirez said. "We really rely on that."