PALESTINE – After a week of resting and reflection, the Palestine Wildcats open district play tonight at home against the Henderson Lions (4-1).
In what has been described as “the district of doom,” the Wildcats get their first district test against a seasoned Lions team. With 26 returners, the Lions will field many of the players who helped them make their run to the quarterfinals in 2018.
“We have to come out with some emotion,” coach Lance Angel said. “[Henderson] is a quality program. It's a program that's done some things that we like to get to. It's going to be a challenge.”
The Lions have been a perpetual playoff team over the past several years. A key point of emphasis for the Wildcats tonight, and throughout district, will be matchups. Henderson is a team that presents a lot of speed in their skill positions. The Lions offense is adept at taking advantage of small creases in the defense as coach Angel noted.
It's evident in their recent outings as they saw two backs, D'Cameron Walker and Kevin Fields, go for over 100 yards on the ground against Rusk. Walker averaged over 14 yards a carry in route to a 183-yard day with Fields adding another 113 yards.
Against Jacksonville, the team saw a trio of backs all go for over 100 yards on better than 12 yards a carry.
Coach Angel emphasized his front seven will need to be “disciplined with their eyes.”
“It goes back to effort and everyone running to the ball,” Angel said, “being disciplined in our tackling angles. All the little things we didn't execute as well against Crandall. Just take care of your job and count on your teammates doing their job.”
On defense, it appears it will be a battle of strength on strength. Outside of Henderson's 49-7 loss against Pleasant Grove where they gave up 251 yards on the ground, they're a defense that's only allowed 90 yards rushing per game.
Coach Angel has seen a “refocused mind” from his players heading into tonight. For Palestine coaches and players, tonight's district opener presents an opportunity to “make up our minds on what kind of team we want to be.”
“There's a different intensity when district starts,” Angel said. “And our players have to be ready to match that intensity.”
What can't be the case tonight is some of the “lulls” the Wildcats seem to go through periodically throughout a game. It's an issue coach Angel believes the team can overcome with a focused mentality and leadership from their senior class.
“They know the importance of these games now,” Angel said. They all count. The first five were about learning who we are and getting players in the best position we can. We have to take each game one at time and go out and see what we can do.”
Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Wildcat Stadium.