Bobcats ready to make noise in 12-4A

Published 10:07 am Wednesday, August 24, 2016

ORANGEFIELD — It took a decade for the Orangefield Bobcats to end a long playoff drought.

Now, the boys in Orange and White will look to make it four consecutive trips into the postseason fray this year.

The Bobcats clawed their way into the postseason in 2013 after missing them since 2003.

In 2014 they ended another streak, winning their first playoff game in 11 seasons. Last year, the Bobcats (6-6) found their way to another playoff win, defeating Houston Worthing 37-28 before bowing out to a stout Giddings unit.

This year, Coach Josh Smalley will look to guide his squad to a fourth straight berth, something that has never been done in school history.

“This senior class has been a part of a program that has made the playoffs every year since they were freshmen and it definitely gives them something to shoot for, to be the first class to see the school make the playoffs all four years,” said Smalley. “We’ve got a good group coming back and they’re hungry to have a successful season.”

The cupboard is far from bare in Bobcat Country.

Orangefield is returning seven starters on offense and six on defense.

“It’s good to have that experience back in certain areas and we’ve got a good senior group that can provide leadership,” said Smalley. “This year, we look to be a little deeper, two-deep in a lot of spots, so we don’t have guys going both ways that can create those nagging injuries.”

Offensively, the Bobcats return several key weapons.

Senior fullback Christopher McGee is back after rushing for nearly 600 yards and nine touchdowns.

Fellow senior backs Wesley Frillou and Hunter Evans return with experience as well with Kelly Tiller also playing a factor.

“We like our depth in the backfield for sure,” said Smalley. “We have some versatility back there with kids that can do a lot of positive things.”

The Bobcats have the luxury of going into camp with three quarterbacks as both senior Caleb Kress and sophomore Mason Gonzales will both see time there along with junior Christian Louvier.

“Each one of those guys have looked good at practice and we’ll know more once we get the scrimmages under our belts,” said Smalley. “It’s a nice luxury to have. Kress will contribute heavily in the secondary while Gonzales was huge for us on the defensive line last year and Louvier will help us out in other areas as well. All three will see plenty of time for sure, it just may not always be at quarterback.”

The Bobcat backs will have some depth to run behind along the offensive line that will include the likes of seniors Hilton Lafleur, Cole Coulter and Kaden Head along with fellow seniors Bradley Bilbo and Terry Statum and juniors Aaron Galitz and Brett Fregia.

“We’ve got some experience up front,” said Smalley. “Those guys know the schemes and techniques we’re looking for. We’ve got some size up there and hopefully they can open up some big holes for us because our offense is all about moving the sticks and controlling the clock.”

Senior Andrew Hoyland will lead the receiving group along with junior Michael Teeples and Gonzales some at tight end.

The Bobcats also own a dangerous weapon in the form of kicker Jacob Rainey, who arguably could be the best kicker in District 24-4A.

“We certainly feel good in our kicking game,” said Smalley. “Jacob is the third Rainey to come through here and each one of them have been good ones.”

The defense will be sparked by six returnees. Gonzales, a second team All-District selection at defensive ends, leads the front along with Fregia, Teeples, Statum and senior Colton Harrington.

“We’re looking for a few kids to step up there along the defensive front,” said Smalley. “That’s probably where we lack the least experience. Those guys are working hard to show improvement. Once we get a few games under our belts, they have the opportunity to be pretty good.”

Hoyland, a second team All-District linebacker, returns and will be aided by the likes of McGee and Bradley.

First team All-District performer Zach Dischler is a strong anchor in the secondary at safety and will likely be teaming up with Frillou and Zach Norman.

“We like our secondary unit and with Kress back there with experience as well,” said Smalley. “Dischler had a really big year for us last year.

Playing in just a five-team District 12-4A Division II, the Bobcats have a formidable six-game non-district schedule.

They will open up at home against long-time rival Buna Aug. 26. Other non-district tilts will be at Kirbyville (Sept. 2), Woodville (Sept. 9), at LC-M (Sept. 16), Beaumont Kelly (Sept. 23) and at Diboll (Sept. 30).

“We like our non-district schedule for sure,” said Smalley. “Our rivalry with Buna is one of the oldest around. Kirbyville and Woodville are both playoff teams with excellent athletes. LC-M has so much depth and really good skill folks. Kelly always plays us hard and Diboll was a playoff team too. That schedule should definitely get us ready for district.”

The Bobcats will look to improve on their 2-2 district mark of a year ago. They will visit Liberty (Oct. 7) and Hardin-Jefferson (Oct. 28) and will host Hamshire-Fannett (Oct. 21) and WO-S (Nov. 4).

With just one victory more than likely getting a team into the playoffs in just a five-team district, the Bobcats certainly have a great chance of doing just that and then some.

“West Orange is West Orange and they will always be the favorites unless proven otherwise,” said Smalley. “They have some amazing athletes and 17 starters back from a state championship team, that’s pretty amazing. Liberty has almost everyone back from their playoff team. No way Hardin-Jefferson will go 2-8 again with the talent they have back. Hamshire-Fannett will have some new faces with a new staff, which will bring some enthusiasm. It’s a good district from top to bottom, that’s for sure.”