By JUSTIN RAINS
All season long, the Palestine football team has been waiting for this moment.
The “logical next step,” for the Wildcat program, as PHS coach Lance Angel said before the season, was to win a district title.
Friday, Palestine begins that journey when they welcome in Rusk for a 7:30 p.m. kick-off at Wildcat Stadium (1600 S. Loop 256, Palestine, Texas, 75801).
The Wildcats are the only team from District 19-3A who have yet to play a game.
“Everybody else has played a district game, except for us, so we’re already in a hole. You can’t start off 0-1 and expect to win a district title, not in this district,” Angel said. “We’re excited to get on the field. There will be some early moments, I’m sure, where we’ll have to shake the rust off, but we’re excited to get out there. Starting 1-0 would be great, and we’re going to have to play great for it to happen.”
Palestine is coming off of its bye week, but it wasn’t a week that the Wildcats took off by any means.
Angel said his team treated like any other week, except there wasn’t a game to play on Friday.
“I guess everybody can use that time, but we padded up and practiced all week so we didn’t take too much time off,” he said. “I’d prefer to play than to have a week off, but we were able to get some things done and work on our assignments against Rusk.”
The Eagles are coming in as a team with its backs against the wall. Rusk fell to Fairfield, 35-13, in their district-opener, and have lost three-straight since opening the season 4-0.
The Eagles bring with them a potent option-based rushing attack, led by senior back Chaston Bennett.
That type of attack has given Palestine trouble in years past, but Angel thinks his much-improved defense will be up to the task Friday.
“I think our defensive coaches have done a good job (and) I think our defensive coaches have done a good job preparing for it,” he said. “We’ll just have to see Friday. It’s just one of those offenses that, if the right guy doesn’t take the dive or if somebody assignment to the quarterback doesn’t do his job...they can take it 80. We’re going to have to stay focused all night and it’s a good test for our kids.”
On the season, the Wildcats are giving up about nine points per game less than they did a year ago, a large decrease over one season.
Offensively, the Wildcats also seem to be finding their stride.
In the Wildcats’ win over Pittsburg before the bye, they racked up almost 500 yards of total offense.
A little more than 200 of that came from the arm of sophomore quarterback Gee Clark, who topped 200 yards for the second-straight week.
The renewed passing game adds a completely new dimension to the Palestine attack.
“I’ll be honest, we don’t go into every game saying we want to be 50/50 (run/pass),” Angel said. “Obviously, we’re going to be a run team first and we just want to have the capability, when people try to take the run game away — which most people do — we want to be able to throw the ball and affect what the defense is able to do against us.”
While the passing game has continued its growth, it’s not as if the rushing game has taken time off, with Palestine routinely going for 200-plus yards on the ground.
The ground attack should get an added boost Friday with the return of junior Jarrell Owens, who has been battling a groin injury for most of the season.
Owens hasn’t played since the team’s win over Kaufman, but is expected to return Friday.
“He wasn’t healthy anytime. He’s been practicing this week and hopefully...his groin is healed and we’ll have to see what he can do Friday,” Angel said. “For us, it allows us to have that running back that can pound it up inside and really present problems.
“When you have so much speed at running back, just to have a bigger guy that can pound and wear defenses down...it adds a different dimension. It just depends on the game and the defense we’re playing on who has a big night.”
While it’s a big night because of the 19-3A opener, it’s also homecoming at Palestine Friday.
Before the game, the homecoming queen and court will be announced, while two Palestine legends will be inducted onto the Wall of Honor at halftime.
The team will honor Richard Farris and Ivory Lee Brown at the half, placing them alongside other Palestine legends on the wall of the high school behind the home stands.
Farris (PHS Class of 1958) was an all-state linebacker and guard for Palestine in 1957 as a senior, before going on to play at Tyler Junior College.
He became an All-American linebacker and guard at TJC, before transferring to North Texas State, where he was again named an All-American.
Farris played for the Los Angeles Rams of the National Football League (NFL) in 1963.
IVORY LEE BROWN
Brown (PHS Class of 1987) was an all-state running back for Palestine in 1986, setting the career rushing mark in the process.
He went on to TJC, where he also became an All-American, before he went on to Arkansas-Pine Bluff, again becoming an All-American.
Brown played for the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals in 1991 and 1992, and the Minnesota Vikings in 1993.
In 2003, Brown finally saw his all-time rushing record fall, at the hands of his nephew Adrian Peterson.
THIS WEEK IN PALESTINE HISTORY
Oct. 22, 2006 — Montrell Jordan ran for 250 yards and three touchdowns — including one from 87 yards out — as the Wildcats rolled to a homecoming victory over Groesbeck, 46-14.
The Herald-Press is helping the Wildcats celebrate their 100th year on the football field by posting memories from each week of the season. If you have a memory you’d like to share, email firstname.lastname@example.org