MILDRED — —
While Mildred has been steadily progressing over a seven-year playoff run, Mike Franklin has been trying to get Tolar back to the postseason. He’s right where he thought the Rattlers would be. Two years ago.
“When we moved back to 2A (in 2010), we felt like we had the athletes to compete,” said Franklin, in his 12th season in Tolar. “But one thing or another, injuries or illnesses, have happened. I kind of hate to use this for this area, but we felt snakebit.”
No more. At the halfway point of the district season, the Rattlers (5-1, 3-0 in District 6-2A DII) are hosting high-flying Mildred (5-1, 3-0) in a game that could decide the district title. They are the only remaining district unbeatens.
Both coaches look at this as a mirror matchup.
“They’ve got a good team,” said Mildred’s Patrick Harvell, who is 40-14 in his fifth season. “They play hard, get after the ball, and are very sound at what they do, similar to us. They play with a lot of effort.”
In Tolar, the Rattlers are finally healthy. Over the last two seasons key players have suffered ACL tears and separated shoulders. Four starters missed one game with the flu. There were six concussions that sidelined players last year.
“This year, knock on wood, that hasn’t happened,” Franklin said.
Since an opening-season 24-6 loss to San Saba, the Rattlers have rolled. They haven’t scored less than 33 points in a game, and in district have won by a combined 164-26. Last week, they scored four second half touchdowns to route Scurry-Rosser, 42-14.
Tolar plays three quarterbacks, Franklin said, and that’s perhaps the most contrast to Mildred you will see in the game. The Eagles lean on Iowa-bound, record-setting Nic Shimonek solely.
The Rattlers offense starts, and often ends in the end zone, with junior running back Cory Solomon, who has 923 yards this season.
“He’s a good runner,” Harvell said. “He runs hard, and he has decent speed. If he gets out in the open, he has the ability to turn it into a long play.”
Franklin has a comparison for Solomon: Mildred’s Draylon Sterling, who is averaging 13.9 yards per carry (53-737) and has 14 touchdowns, one for every 3.8 times he touches the ball.
“Cory’s a special running back, a lot like Sterling,” Franklin said. “If he gets a crease, he can be gone.”
The two teams are on scathing streaks right now. Tolar has won five in a row, and is off to its best start since 5-1 in 2005. (The Rattlers ended the season 7-4). Mildred has won four in a row, and in district play the Eagles have outscore three opponents 195-7.
“Since the second half against Franklin,” Harvell said of the 41-6 non-district finale, “we feel good about the way we have played.”
With no offense to the other six teams in 6-2A DII, it looks like the district title gets decided Friday at Rattlers Stadium
“We’ll have our hands full,” Harvell said.
Mildred at Tolar
7:30 p.m. Friday
At Rattlers Stadium
RECORDS: Class 2A Mildred is 5-1, 3-0 in District 6-2A DII. Class 2A Tolar is 5-1, 3-0.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Mildred: L Noah Pennell, QB Nic Shimonek, RB/DB Draylon Sterling, WR/LB Jonathan Harrison. Tolar: RB Cory Solomon, QB Corbin Wood, LB Zayne Gumler, L Weston Phillips.
When Tolar has the ball …
The Rattlers have an explosive attack, averaging 40.3 points per game. Take away a season-opening 24-6 loss, and it climbs to 47.2. Solomon, with 923 yards, is an electric back, Mildred coach Patrick Harvell said, and 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, Harvell said. Both are juniors. The Rattlers have a stable of senior receivers, and run from multiple sets.
When Mildred has the ball …
Much like last year, Mildred is scoring in bunches. The Eagles are averaging 51.5 points per game. Tolar, meanwhile, has the stingiest defense in 6-2A DII, allowing just 11.5 points per game. The Eagles have three of the top five receivers in the Golden Circle, and four of the top 11. Mildred is by far the most balanced team in the area, averaging 262.7 yards on the ground (57 percent) and 201.3 on the ground (43 percent). Blooming Grove is next, with a 72-28 rush-to-pass ratio.
Shimonek’s career numbers are starting to get into Felix Baumgartner-like heights. His sixth attempt Friday will be the 800th of his career. He is 28 completions away from 500, 295 yards from 7,000 and 21 touchdowns away from 100. He’s put up solid season numbers (65% passing, 1,208 yards, 15 TDs and 3 INTs) with a rebuilt receiving corps that has more than arrived. And, he’s added a rush element. His 7.6 yards per carry are twice his best previous season, his 417 yards almost double last year, when he rushed for 221 in 14 games.
Tolar is no pushover, Harvell contends. While their last playoff year was in 2009, the Rattlers enjoyed nine postseason appearances in 10 seasons from 1998 to 2007. The school has some history. The Rattlers have not played a team with a winning record this year. If the game comes down to defense, Mildred’s is starting to gel. Mildred 41, Tolar 20.
— Raymond Linex II