Last season, the No. 5-ranked Paris Wildcats football team put the state on notice after an impressive 27-21 victory at home over the stories Gilmer Buckeyes. From there, Paris finished second in the district and lost just two more contests the entire regular season and postseason.
Now, the Wildcats travel to Gilmer for a blockbuster rematch as both teams are ranked No. 5 in the state in Class 4A — Paris in Division I and Gilmer in Division II — where keeping things in perspective will be key.
“We just try to emphasize consistency with our players — not too high, not too low,” Paris head football coach Steven Hohenberger said. “We understand each day we want to win the day with whatever it curtails. We call Monday, ‘big teach Monday,’ so there’s a lot of game reports on the opponent and what each player needs to improve upon. I think as the week goes along, you need to raise your level of focus and details. They’re a group that is pretty consistent.”
Gilmer is a program who has won state championships in 2004, 2009 and 2014, and the program expects to be in the hunt every year. Paris expects to work hard to join Gilmer in that category, and this Friday’s game could be a big step in that direction.
“They’re (Gilmer) a storied program,” Hohenberger said. “When you think of Gilmer, one thing you see all over their stadium is, ‘protect the brand.’ They feel like they’ve branded the Gilmer Buckeyes in East Texas, and rightfully so. They’ve got a tradition there, and their players grow up excited to be a Buckeye. I’ve told people across the state when they’ve called this week that obviously Paris back in the day had that in the ’80s back with Coach (Allen) Wilson and the championship — that leaping cat on the silver helmet was a brand. That’s what we’re yearning for and working hard to get, because once you’ve established yourself there, it’s just a pipeline that continues to go. We’re not there, we’re working to get there, but that’s what Gilmer is. Year in and year out, they’re going to compete for a state championship in the conference they’re in.”
In its first two games — both wins — Gilmer scored more than 40 points. The Buckeyes beat Atlanta 47-26 in their home opener, while cruising to a 41-21 victory at Van. The high-octane offense will be hard to stop and will test the Wildcats’ ability to reset and remain fundamentally sound through four quarters.
“Gilmer is an explosive offense who wants to snap the ball 100 times,” Hohenberger said. “They’re a modern-age offense that you’re seeing at the collegiate level. They’re fast-paced, kind of basketball on grass. They’ve got their quarterback (Mason Hurt), who is very accurate, but to me it starts with the run game on both sides of the ball. The running back (Darrell) Bush — if you let him get going, it opens up their vertical passing game. They’re going to want to screen you, but the main thing they want to do is put you in sloppy play because they run plays so fast. We’ve got to continue to be detailed, get lined up and play the game it was meant to be. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what you do on offense and defense even if you line up sound, it’s about blocking and tackling. That’s what it’s going to come down to, and that’s what I think it came down to in Week One against Pleasant Grove. They blocked better on the perimeter than we did, and I think that’s what it’s going to come down to this week.”
Hohenberger said previously that late game execution played a factor in Paris’ season-opening loss at Pleasant Grove. With another high-quality opponent in front of it on the road Friday night, it’s another chance for the Wildcats to be elite.
“Why you don’t execute is because either: one, you didn’t learn it during the week, or two, you lose your composure — your competitive emotion,” Hohenberger said. “I talk all the time about competitive emotion, and different kids and players do it different ways. Some get so frustrated and rattled because of the play before. We talk a lot about reset, flush it. That play is over. You’ve been taught what to do, put yourself in that position and perform. It’s a laboratory in terms of every day we’re teaching. Every day we’re discussing. You watch practice film every day and realize that I didn’t get here to execute because of my footwork or fundamentals. It could also come down to which team is in the best shape in the fourth quarter. If you’re not in shape, it’s hard to execute at a high level. That’s why we love playing teams like Pleasant Grove and Gilmer because you’re going to have to be locked in, detailed and focused in the fourth quarter to have an opportunity to win.”
Paris turned heads with its impressive run through the regular season and postseason in 2018. The belief, execution and wins were there. A win Friday night could be a springboard in repeating and surpassing last season’s success, and the belief is strong.
“I believe this, I believed it against Pleasant Grove, it’s why it was so disheartening to myself because I felt like I let the team down with where we were at with some of the adjustments we did or didn’t make in that game,” Hohenberger said. “I truly feel like anybody who is on our schedule, if we do what Paris is supposed to do — when we do our job, I don’t feel like anybody can beat us. I feel that way about Friday night, and that’s not a knock against Gilmer because they are a top-ranked team. And I’m sure if they do the same, they feel the same way. That’s the type of football we want to be able to play. At the end of the day, if we play to the best of our abilities and lose, man, it’s easy to shake hands across. But, what’s hard is turning on the film Saturday and realizing we did something to beat ourselves. The challenge is to go out and play the way you’ve been coached. We’ve got great players, we feel like we have a great plan Friday night — it’s just about going out and having fun now.”
Ultimately, though, the fun of the game remains paramount regardless of the result.
“At the end of the day, if you don’t have fun, then what are we all doing? Don’t let the stress or pressure get to you — the competitive emotion is enjoying the journey, competing and having fun with your teammates,” Hohenberger said.
The Wildcats and Buckeyes square off at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Gilmer.