By JUSTIN RAINS
Two teams that harbored dreams of a state title face-off Friday for the right to escape the brutal Region IV and move on to the state’s “Final Four.”
Oakwood and Abbott meet at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Mexia’s Blackcat Field (1000 N Bailey St., Mexia, Texas 76667). On the line is the six-man Division I Region IV championship.
“We’ve been preaching to them that this team (Abbott) was a semifinalist last year, and their goal is to win a state championship this year and that’s been our goal,” OHS coach Mike Heckathorn said. “Now, there are two teams with that goal that are about to clash and we’re in a position to be in the final four if we play well.”
The match-up will feature strength against strength, as the prolific Oakwood offense tries to navigate the stifling Abbott defense.
In its two playoff wins, Abbot has allowed only 16 points, all of them coming last week in a 62-16 win over Leverett’s Chapel.
On the year, Abbott has allowed more than 16 only three times, and have only allowed opponents to eclipse the 40-point mark twice.
But, both of those instances came in losses to teams that Oakwood knows well — Milford and Jonesboro, both of whom beat Oakwood.
On the other side, the Oakwood offense averages more than 70 points per game and the Panthers have put up 193 points in their two playoff wins.
Only once this season has Oakwood failed to up at least 50 points, and that came in a 80-43 loss to Jonesboro in early October.
“They’re the best or second-best defense that we’ve played,” Heckathorn said. “There as good or maybe better than Jonesboro.
“If we don’t block better than we did the last two weeks (we’ll have trouble),” he continued. “The last two games we’ve been counting on the big play and haven’t had, really, any drives.”
While its defense might be its strength, Abbott’s offense is nothing to scoff at. Averaging a little more than 53 points per game, Abbott has outscored opponents 283-24 on its current six-game winning streak.
If any part of Oakwood’s game is struggling slightly, it might be the Panthers’ defense. Oakwood has allowed 65 and 71 points to Fannindel and Buckholts, respectively, in the postseason, but have still managed to win both games rather comfortably.
“Our defense is going to have to step it up,” Heckathorn said. “Now, the good thing is they don’t pass very much...up to this point they haven’t thrown the ball very well. If we can force them throw, then I think we’ll have an advantage.”
The winner of Friday’s regional final moves on to face the winner of Region III’s final between Santa Anna and Gordon.
Meanwhile, Turkey Valley and Petersburg battle for Region I Friday, while defending state champion Throckmorton takes on Rankin for the Region II title Saturday.
Sports editor Justin Rains can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org