BLANKET — Following a one-year hiatus, the Blanket Tigers are back in the playoffs. Sticking around, however, will prove to be quite the challenge.
After receiving a bye last week, the District 13 runner-up Tigers (4-6) will take on the No. 3 Calvert Trojans (11-0) in a Division I Region IV semifinal showdown at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Moody.
Calvert is coming off a 64-35 bi-district win over Rochelle while Blanket won three of its last four games to bounce back from a disastrous 1-5 start.
“With us getting healthy, getting into the playoffs and winning three out of our last four games, that helps our confidence, especially with the younger kids,” said Blanket head coach Darin Barrow. “We have something to build on.”
At one point this season, nine of the 14 members of the Blanket varsity roster were injured. But the Tigers eventually healed, which sparked their rally in the second half of the season. A similar clean bill of health heading into Friday’s action should give the Tigers a fighting chance against one of the state’s elite programs.
“As far as injuries go, we’re in pretty good shape,” Barrow said. “We’ve had a little bit of a flu bug here at school, but we appear to be in pretty good shape. Having last week off allowed us to get a little more healthy.”
Barrow also stated that the Tigers went back to the basics during last week’s practices, ensuring their fundamentals were sound for this week’s contest.
Calvert flattened its competition during the regular season as the Trojans mercy-ruled each opponent. Calvert is giving up just 13.2 points per game, while scoring at a 58.2 points per game clip.
“Calvert’s a very good team,” Barrow said. “They run a lot of tight formations, they’re very fundamentally sound and they have lots of size and speed. What concerns me about them is they’re real fast. They don’t do anything that’s real fancy, they just beat you with speed.”
Blanket’s offense is hitting on all cylinders now that all the parts are back in working order. The Tigers are averaging 41.3 points per game, and the two main offensive sparks have been Neil Dove and Brian Box.
Dove has completed 66-of-105 passes for 1,135 yards and 10 touchdowns, and in district play he was 45-of-73 for 714 yards with six scores. On the ground, Dove has rushed for 569 yards and 11 touchdowns, including 441 yards and seven touchdowns in district.
Box has rushed for a team-high 871 yards and 20 touchdowns, while adding 313 yards passing and three scores. He has also grabbed 20 receptions for 354 yards and three more touchdowns.
Other weapons in the Blanket arsenal include receivers K.J. King (25-348, 5 TDs), Chris Boykin (24-513, 3 TDs), Zach Isham (19-354, 3 TDs) and Darrell Greenwood (13-133, TD). Isham has also rushed for 179 yards and five scores.
Corey Wetzel is another multiple threat with 199 yards passing and a touchdown to go along with his 14 receptions.
The greatest challenge for Blanket could be on the defensive side of the ball, however, as the Tigers have yielded an average of 46 points per game.
“They have some good running backs so we have to wrap up and make open-field tackles,” Barrow said.
James Nance leads Blanket with 140 tackles, while Box has 97 tackles, two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and two defensive touchdowns. Greenwood and Boykin have chipped in 64 and 63 tackles, respectively.
With Calvert’s offense capable of scoring on any play, one of the biggest keys for Blanket will be not allowing the Trojans more chances to score due to turnovers.
“We have to make sure we eliminate turnovers if we hope to be in the game,” Barrow said.
Friday’s winner will face either No. 2 Richland Springs or May for the Region IV championship next week.