Orangefield football preview: Bobcats aiming for third straight playoff berth

Published 8:20 am Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Bobcats aiming for third straight playoff berth


By Van Wade

The Orange Leader


ORANGEFIELD — Leaving little doubt that it is a program on the rise the last couple years, the Orangefield Bobcats look to up the stakes this year.

In 2013, the Orangefield Bobcats ended a decade-long playoff drought.

In 2014, the Bobcats clawed their way to their first playoff win since 2003 by outgunning the Houston Kashmere Rams 49-35 in the bidistrict round of the Class 4A Division II playoffs before bowing out to highly-ranked LaGrange in the area round.

This year, Coach Josh Smalley will try to lead his troops to a third consecutive trip to the postseason and even deeper into the playoffs.

“We were so proud to advance to that second round last year because it had been so long,” said Smalley. “The kids are hungry for more now. It’s no longer about just making it in, it’s about going deeper and competing for the district title. We want to be in the hunt year-in and year-out.”

The Bobcats will enter the 2015 campaign with four starters back on offense and five on defense and have a total of 15 returning lettermen off last year’s 7-5 unit.

The Bobcats will have to replace a pair of explosive offensive weapons to say the least to get their vaunted Slot-T, Wing-T formation going once again.

Tailback Colby Choate, who was the All-Orange Leader Teams’ Offensive Player of the Year, is gone.

All Choate did was grind out 1,768 yards on the ground on 224 carries and scored 28 touchdowns.

The Bobcats also lose graduated quarterback-safety Matthew Kress. Kress, the All-Leader Teams’ First Team quarterback and All-District safety, accounted for 804 yards rushing and 10 TDs and had 80 tackles and three interceptions.

The Bobcats do have some experience returning in the backfield in quarterback-running back Matthew Watkins. Watkins, who was Second Team All-District as a defensive back in 2014, did rush for 430 yards and three TDs on 77 carries. Wesley Frillou is also expected to make an impact in the backfield this year along with Triston McGee and Matthew Brown. The Bobcats have depth at fullback with Austin Moore and Blayze Holley and Dylan Anthony will also contribute.

The Bobcats will have nice size up front to anchor the offensive line in the forms of All-District center Brandon Bray (5-11, 220), Jake Bradley (6-3, 240) along with Hilton Lafleur, Cole Coulter and Kaden Head.

The tight end will be Cale Puckett and Zach Dischler will be at split end.

“We have a lot of depth in the backfield, which is a big plus,” said Smalley. “We have guys back there that are working on both sides of the ball so hopefully we can spell them quite a bit. Our offensive line, they’re working hard to get better. We have a few guys ready to gain that experience. They are getting use to the speed of the game and once they adjust to that, they’re going to be fine.”

Spearheading the defensive side of the ball will be hard-hitting All-District linebacker Austin Moore.

The secondary will have plenty of experience with Watkins, and Chase Furlough.

The Bobcats will lack the least amount of experience along the defensive front that was anchored by the likes of Jerrod Watkins and Jonathon Hebert last year.

Bray, Puckett, Holley and Jacob Harrison look to make headway there.

Moore will be joined at linebacker by Christopher McGee and Hunter Evans. Tristan McGee and Frillou will also contribute in the secondary.

One thing for sure, the Bobcat kicking game is secure with the return of First Team All-District kicker Matthew Rainey, who drilled every single one of his extra-points a season ago.

“This group is going to be excited to coach,” said Smalley. “This will be the seventh year that we’ve been in this offense and it will be the third year for this defensive style. The kids know what to expect and they pretty much know how we want to execute and that’s a big plus.”

The Bobcats’ first two non-district games will be at home against Buna and Kirbyville to start a six-game non-district schedule before they dive into a competitive 9-4A district.

“We may have a five-team district, but it’s a good one,” said Smalley. “Our district went 3-1 in the first round of the playoffs, one team went to the third round and another played for the state championship. Of course, the district still runs through WO-S until somebody knocks them off. They are young this year but are so talented. Hardin-Jefferson has a new coach and style and they have a lot of skill people back. Hamshire-Fannett has a ton of kids back and Kendrick King at quarterback and Liberty is going to be better. It’s going to be a dogfight every single week.”