Some folks might take a gander at Stephenville’s 2018 football schedule and call it brutal, or suicide mission.
But if you’re Stephenville — coming off a trip to the Class 4A, Division I state semifinals with a 12-3 record and five state championship trophies on display — it might just be referred to as, “It’s what’s for dinner.”
SHS head coach Greg Winder does admit that him Yellow Jackets will be facing a tough lineup of foes, starting with Argyle, at home, in the first game of the regular season. That will be followed by road games at Everman and Abilene Wylie, and home games against Midlothian Heritage and Georgetown.
Stephenville defeated preseason favorite Abilene Wylie in District 3-4A, Div. I play last season, clinching the district title. The Bulldogs (6-4) moved up to the Class 5A, Div. II ranks in the new realignment. The 2017 Jackets also posted a playoff victory over Argyle, which was unbeaten and ranked No. 3 in the state at that time and finished 12-1.
Heritage made a run to the third round of the Class 4A, Div. I playoffs before being eliminated by eventual state finalist Kennedale, 45-43, finishing 12-1 on the season. Kennedale was the team that ended Stephenville’s football season, 54-28 in the semifinal round.
The other two non-district matchups are against Class 5A schools. Georgetown made it to the second round of the 5A Division II playoffs, and Everman was eliminated in bi-district.
“It’ll get us prepared for district. That’s one of the toughest schedules I’ve seen in a long time,” said Winder, who has led the Jackets to the playoffs in each of his three seasons as head coach. “It is what it is. You can look at that schedule and match it up to anybody in the state of Texas.”
Stephenville’s new football alignment, released last Thursday morning by the UIL, has the Jackets moving from Region 1 to Region 2. They were placed in District 5-4A, Division I, with China Spring, Waco La Vega, Brownwood and Gatesville.
China Spring was a state semifinalist in 2016 (13-2), and La Vega as a regional finalist (13-1). Brownwood finished 6-5 overall, but made the playoffs as the third-place team in 3-4A, Div. I. Gatesville also made the 2017 playoffs, and was 7-4 overall.
The five-team district gives each team only four league games, of course, and Winder was unable to find a sixth non-district opponent. That left the Jackets with open dates before the start of district play, and on the final weekend of the regular season.
He said the rest of the schools he contacted either couldn’t match up with Stephenville’s open date, or didn’t want to take on the Jackets.
Winder said he had only eight games until about 4 p.m. Friday when he got a call from Georgetown High School to fill that fifth-week non-district slot.
“I called the private schools, and called schools all the way to the Austin area,” Winder said of his search. “We’d like to play another 4A, but we can’t find anybody. That’s what happens when you run into a five-team district. That’s a lot of games you’ve got to find.”
He said that finding non-district opponents has gotten more difficult in recent years, especially since Class 4A was divided into the Division I (bigger schools) and Division II (smaller schools) designations.
“Used to, people would play you regardless (of classification),” Winder said. “When it changed to Division I and Division II, some coaches think they need to play just Division II schools.”
The Jackets had a nine-game regular-season schedule in 2012, but it didn't hurt their chances. They won the fifth state football championship in school history that year.
Winder noted that there is really no deadline for adding a 10th game, so if he finds another opponent he could fill the schedule later.
The coaches in Stephenville’s new district had to postpone their first district meeting because Brownwood is searching for a new head coach. As a result, Winder isn’t sure of all the details, but all of the games are expected to be on Fridays, with 7:30 p.m. starting times.
Stephenville’s scrimmage opponents will remain the same in 2018. The first scrimmage will be at home against Glen Rose, and the second one will be at Granbury.