A lot has changed in the intervening 12 weeks since Red Oak and Denton Braswell first took the field at Denton’s C.H. Collins Athletic Complex to open the 2019 football season.
In that game, Braswell’s defense held the Hawks to what would be their season-low in points scored. Joshua Ervin threw for four touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough as the Bengals prevailed, 48-27.
Since that time, Red Oak has reeled off 10 victories in a row, shattered the school record for points scored, and claimed its first outright district championship in 37 years. The Hawks (10-1) were set Saturday night to attempt to reach the third round of the playoffs for the first time since 2012 in a rematch with Braswell at AT&T Stadium in Arlington at 7:30 p.m.
The Bengals (9-2) are making their own history, notching their first district championship as well as their first playoff win in the school’s short four-year history last week in a 49-28 home win against Corsicana. After dropping non-district games to Frisco High and Burleson, Braswell ran the table in District 7-5A (II) and bring an eight-game skein of their own to Jerry World.
Ervin, a junior, has thrown for 34 touchdowns against just four interceptions on the year for the Hawks. He has completed 111 of 155 passes for 2,218 yards. Helping out is a cadre of talented receivers led by senior Coby Cavil, who has 52 catches for 987 yards and 14 TDs, all team highs. Junior Raymond Gay II (27-585, 8 TDs) and sophomore Kelsey Johnson (14-399, 7 TDs) have gotten a good number of targets as well.
The Hawks are no slouches running the football, either. Senior CJ Palmer has carried 130 times for 1,438 yards and 21 touchdowns, with seven games of 100 or more yards. Junior Zach Sanders has 88 rushes for 907 yards and 15 TDs of his own, and senior Keshawn Merritt is just two yards shy of 500 for the year with eight scores.
On defense, a trio of juniors lead the way. Jackson Bailey is the team’s leading tackler with 60 total stops, and Devin Steen is right behind with 59 and Carter Lincoln with 56. Senior Todd Tillis has 16 quarterback sacks, and classmate Chris Sanchez has 14 sacks and a team-high 21 tackles for loss.
The Red Oak defense has 19 total interceptions on the year spread among a dozen players, with sophomore Elijah Shaw (a team-high two pick-sixes) and junior Amarion Craddock with three apiece.
Juniors Zorian Burley and John Mathis each have added a fumble return for touchdowns.
Braswell, meanwhile, brings its own high-octane offense into Saturday night’s game. Quarterback Greyson Thompson has passed for right at 3,000 yards on the year, with 33 touchdowns and only six interceptions; and Thompson also has a team-high nine rushing scores. Thompson’s top receiver is Cam Smith, who has 71 catches for 1,166 yards and 14 TDs.
In the first meeting with Red Oak on Aug. 29, Thompson threw for 320 yards and two TDs, both two Smith, who ended the game with 148 yards.
The Bengals employ a stable of running backs, with Ifesimi Yessuff leading the way with 886 yards and seven TDs.