It’s understandable to hear there’s apprehension over Blooming Grove’s showdown Friday night against Tolar being selected as the Golden Circle Game of the Week.
A month ago when the Lions were the Daily Sun’s feature game at home against Mildred, the Eagles stomped their rivals 62-0. Now Blooming Grove faces off against a strong Tolar team in a battle for second place in District 6-2A DII.
It’s another big game for the Lions in their home stadium.
Here’s the deal — the Lions have turned the page and haven’t blinked since the poor showing against Mildred. Blooming Grove (6-1, 3-1) has won three straight games and picked up a potentially huge win in the playoff race with a 55-35 victory at Scurry-Rosser last Friday.
Quarterback Jayd Kirby played the game of his life against Scurry-Rosser, rushing for seven touchdowns and passing for one. He racked up 473 total yards.
The rest of the offense fed off of Kirby. Travis Whiteside had 175 all-purpose yards. Tyler Morris rushed for 57 yards and had a 7-yard touchdown reception. The Lions racked up 32 first downs on the road.
It all starts with Kirby, but the Lions have developed an all-around explosive offense.
“We compliment him well,” Blooming Grove coach Gary Grubbs said. “I know he rushed and threw for a lot. What he does makes it easier for the other guys on the field. He’s pretty hard to stop. It really sets us up on the other end.”
Tolar (5-2, 3-1) has an explosive offense as well. Running back Cory Solomon has rushed for more than 1,000 yards and is a threat to break big runs against the Lions.
The Rattlers aren’t a big team size wise, Grubbs said, but they are lanky and play hard.
“They have a lot good looking kids,” Grubbs said. “They’re physical. We are too.”
Blooming Grove has played sound defensive football — minus the Mildred game — allowing 280 yards per game. The big story in the Grove is forcing turnovers. Blooming Grove’s defense came up with three interceptions and a fumble recovery last week while the offense didn’t have a turnover.
Scurry needed a trick play to score a touchdown and also benefited from 40 yards of penalties on one drive.
“We’re playing well,” Grubbs said. “We’ve been tackling well. We haven’t covered as well. We’re forcing turnovers.”
The only question for Blooming Grove is how will they handle another big game.
Grubbs was quick to separate Friday’s game against Tolar from the one against Mildred in the district opener.
“Mildred is a big rivalry and we haven’t had much success against them lately in any sport,” Grubbs said. “We didn’t play very well that night, but they’re a really good team.”
Translation? The Lions may have been too over-hyped against Mildred while also going into the game with some self-doubt against an Eagles’ team that made it to the state semifinals last year.
Grubbs also points out that Blooming Grove was an underdog according to the Harris Ratings last Week (Scurry was picked by three). The Lions are picked to lose by 10 to Tolar.
“We’ve been an underdog in a couple of games we’ve won,” Grubbs said.
He’s hoping that trend continues Friday night, and the Lions’ Golden Circle Game of the Week jinx can be stomped out for good.
Tolar at Blooming Grove
7:30 p.m. Friday
At Lions Stadium
RECORDS: Class 2A Blooming Grove is 6-1, 3-1 in District 6-2A DII. Class 2A Tolar is 5-2, 3-1.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Blooming Grove: QB/S Jayd Kirby, RB/LB Travis Whiteside, OL/DL Anthony Black, S Josh Linton. Tolar: RB Cory Solomon, QB Corbin Wood, LB Zayne Gumler, L Weston Phillips.
When Tolar has the ball …
The Rattlers have an explosive attack led by Solomon. Tolar’s go-to guy already has 1,087 yards rushing in only seven games. The junior had 164 yards on 19 carries last week against Mildred, including a 62-yard TD run. Two weeks ago he ran for 231 yards and six TDs against Millsap. Wood is a solid quarterback who can throw and run, and is perhaps most effective when flushed from the pocket. Last week, sophomore Dakota Endsley was 11-of-15 passing for 112 yards.
When Blooming Grove has the ball …
The Lions’ offense centers around QB Kirby, who ran for 283 yards and seven touchdowns on 35 carries and was 11 of 14 passing for 190 yards and a score last week against Scurry-Rosser. The senior has 1,116 yards and 18 TDs rushing this season with 811 yards and seven TDs passing on the season. Whiteside caught four passes for 128 yards last week, while running back Tyler Morris rushed for 57 yards on four totes and caught a 7-yard TD pass.
Both offenses have been able to move the ball all season. As both teams battle for sole possession of second place in district, big plays, turnovers and field position will be key. The Lions defense was led last week by Linton, who recorded a career-high 12 tackles, while Kirby and Daniel Camarillo each had an interception. Camarillo, a sophomore, had a second pick negated by a penalty.
The Lions’ defense matches up well. The big thing Blooming Grove has to avoid is giving up the big play to Solomon, who can go. The Lions’ turnover trend of late favors them big time. They are forcing takeaways and not giving it away. If the Lions do it again Friday night, they’ll pull of a minor upset of Tolar. Blooming Grove 38, Tolar 31.
— Todd Wills