IRVING, Texas — In the eyes of some Jaguars, Carrolton Ranchview High School was as talented of a team as they've faced all season and one able to hang with Argyle, Van and La Vega High Schools, the top 4A programs in Texas.
If a modicum of that pondering is true, Midlothian Heritage High School's 19-point victory against the Wolves at M.I.S.D. Multi-purpose Stadium may tell a deeper story about the Jaguars depth.
"I haven't seen Argyle and Carthage play yet, but Carrollton Ranchview can hang with the best of them. They were the best defense we've seen by far," said Jon Sanders, a 5-foot-11, 260-pound MHHS offensive and defensive lineman. "They were super long and super athletic and their defensive linemen were more of a factor than any other team we've faced. Their whole defensive line was good. One of their starters got taken out early because of an injury and it was like they didn't miss a beat. Even the backups that rotated in were good. We haven't faced a D-line like that since Alvarado and even they couldn't compare to Ranchview."
The Jaguars' performance didn't only earn their team and school a one-position boost in Dave Campbell's Texas Football State Poll, though. It also helped Midlothian Heritage win the first district title in its history — a part of a run to the playoffs that may leave the team with an unblemished district record at season's end.
Much like each of the games on the Jaguars' eight-game win streak, it wasn't a single Herculean performance that won the game. It was a steady implementation of Head Coach Lee Wiginton's offensive and defensive game plans and a focus on grinding down their opponents will to dust.
It was an all-in approach to attacking the Wolf defense by land and air.
"We didn't play great football, but we played resilient football," Wiginton said. "While we did make some mistakes, I thought we stayed with it and kept grinding. It think our determination wore them down. If you asked me what I'd rather have if I could only choose one, perfect determination or perfect execution, I'd lean toward determination every time."
Four different running backs and receivers either recorded two or more rushes or receptions and gained five or more yards. Two players — Nathan Gaskamp (22 rush, 129 yds, 1 TD) and Raja Banks (10 rush, 87 yds) — ran for more than 50 yards.
Of the six players that carried the ball 45 times for 277 total yards, Midlothian Heritage averaged 6.2 yards per carry. Sophomore quarterback Landon Ledbetter (16-25, 273 yds, 3 TDs, 1 INT) threw passes to four different receivers and averaged 17.1 yards per reception.
His 1,956 yards, 26 touchdowns and five interception — a 5.2 touchdown-to-interception ratio that could be deemed worthy by collegiate and professional football standards — leads all other 4A quarterbacks by at least 200 yards.
More than anything the Jaguar defense has evolved from a bend-but-don't-break collection of players to a "Bad Boy" brotherhood that is physical, punishing and turnover hungry. Since allowing an average of 36 points per game in their its four games, Midlothian Heritage has limited the last six opponents to 16.6 ppg.
During that five-game span, the Jaguar defense has created 12 turnovers (7 FR, 5 INT) and help opponents to 333.6 total yards per game. To Sanders and his Midlothian Heritage brethren, however, their win against Carrolton Ranchview was a small step on the path to where they want to be headed — a morning practice in November and a Thanksgiving feast.
"It's just another day in the office and we're doing what we do. Doing us," he said softly, his eyes narrowing slightly as if focusing on the game against Wilmer-Hutchins High School at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Eagle Stadium. "We have to realize that in the playoffs, every team's going to be that good. Every defense is going to be the caliber of Alvarado, Ranchview, Decatur, Sanger or better. Seeing those defenses earlier in the season and having a harder district schedule has really let us know what to expect from Wilmer-Hutchins and when we get into the postseason."