Thanks to busted coverage, Cooper looked like it might cut into a nine-point Mildred lead before the end of the first half. Tight end Braddy Tyler, hard to miss at 6-4, had his hands up running about midfield.
He was wide open. But not for long.
Mildred cornerback Jeremy Ballard left his man, running parallel down the left sideline some 20 yards away from Tyler, and cut in front of the tight end, and snared the floater.
“He didn’t make a good pass,” Ballard said, “and I left my receiver to go make a play on the ball. He lifted it, and it was in the air long enough for me to get over there and catch it.”
It was Ballard’s team-leading eighth interception of the year, and just another reason the Eagles (10-1) are still playing in the postseason. They face Clarksville (8-3) at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Longview in the Region II-2A Division II regionals.
Ballard, a senior, has been somewhat of a silent assassin for the Eagles this year. On offense, he serves as the backup running back, and averages 9.7 yards per carry and has 10 touchdowns. In Friday’s eventual 38-14 win over Cooper, he had 106 yards on 11 carries, including five of 12 yards or more.
On defense, he has been nothing short of stellar. Playing out on the flanks, he has 33 tackles to go along with his ballhawking skills.
“He has a nose for the football,” Mildred coach Patrick Harvell said. “He has been a steady rock at corner.”
The Eagles will need steady rocks on Friday. Clarksville is loaded with athleticism, especially at wide receiver, where 6-6, 225-pound Gary Moore roams. He is being recruited by “everyone in America,” Clarksville coach Dewaski Davis said.
“We’re blessed to have him,” Davis said.
Ten of Moore’s 26 receptions this season have gone for touchdowns, but the Tigers are not all about Moore. A balanced team, Clarksville has speed all over the place. Two quarterbacks, led by TJ Tinnell (65-112-9, 878 yards, 19 TDs) have more than 400 yards passing. They average just under six yards per carry, led by Devontray Forte (143-914, 8 TDs). Moore is one of four receivers with double-digit catch numbers.
“We try to keep everybody happy,” Davis said. “We spread the wealth around and keep defenses honest.”
On Friday, Davis said he hopes to keep Mildred’s offense — averaging 57 points per game — off the field. Harvell’s hoping to do the same to Clarksville.
A lot like Cooper, the Tigers own a fairly deceiving record. Their two losses were to Daingerfield (21-6) and state-ranked Hughes Springs (28-21) in the season opener. Both are still playing. The Daingerfield game was 7-6 at the half, Davis said, and Clarksville was inside the red zone twice and did not come away with points. Against Hughes Springs, the Tigers had five turnovers.
The lone head-scratcher was a 24-23 loss to two-win Grapevine Faith Christian.
“We had two defensive line starters out that didn’t make the trip, and two more starters got sick on the hot three and a half hour bus ride,” Davis said. “It was one of those nights where if anything could wrong, it went wrong.”
When it comes to close games, Clarksville has an edge. They have played in four decided by a touchdown or less, winning three. Mildred’s 24-point win Friday was its closest game of the year.
“They have won games at the end when they’ve had to,” Harvell said of Clarksville. “They’ve got tough kids.”
Ballard’s looking forward to the challenge, but his chances against Moore may be limited. Both line up on the right side primarily — Moore on the offense’s right, Ballard on the defense’s right. Freshman Will Burnham, who at 6-3 is a better height matchup with Moore, plays on the left side of Mildred’s defense.
“They’re all great athletes, every one of them,” Ballard said of the Tigers. “They pass quite often, and that’s what I am looking forward to.”
Mildred vs. Clarksville
Region II-2A DII Regionals
7:30 p.m., Friday, Longview’s Lobo Stadium
Players to Watch: Mildred — QB Nic Shimonek, RB/S Draylon Sterling, L Noah Pennell, L Thomas Finigmow, RB/CB Jeremy Ballard, WR/LB Jonathan Harrison. Clarksville — QB/FS Richard Young, FB/LB Richie Robledo, RB/FS Favian Montes, FB/DE Ryan Gibson, WR/CB Chance Green, L Findley Harris.
10-1 Record 8-3
6-2A District 8-2A
57.9 Points Per Game 34.7
11.1 Points Allowed Per Game 19.9
284.5 Rushing Yards Per Game 158.7
175.4 Rushing Yards Allowed n/a
188.4 Passing Yards Per Game 125.4
52.8 Passing Yards Allowed n/a
Sterling (1,588, 30 TDs) Rushing Tinnell (878, 19 TDs)
Shimonek (2,072, 28 TDs) Passing Forte (914, 8 TDs)
Muncy (646, 8 TDs) Receiving Moore (471, 10 TDs)
Sterling (90) Tackles McPeters (79)
Ballard (8) Interceptions Scales (5)
Road to Longview
Def. Cooper, 38-14 Area Def. Jacksboro, 43-31