Walking off the Huntsville Hornets’ practice field Tuesday morning, Tyrique Carter cracked a smile, beaming with excitement.
“It’s the most ready I’ve ever been,” are the first words to emerge from the senior receiver’s mouth.
It’s easy to understand why.
When Huntsville takes the field to face Fort Bend Marshall at Woodforest Bank Stadium in The Woodlands on Saturday at 2 p.m., there will be much more at stake than a trip to the Class 5A, Division II quarterfinals. For this Hornet team, and especially its 30-plus seniors, it will present an opportunity to shed a heartbreak that has haunted them for nearly 12 months.
Huntsville had its deepest postseason run in 28 years ended by the Buffalos last December in devastating fashion — the Hornets mounted a 20-point comeback and pulled ahead on a 69-yard touchdown pass from Matthew Southern to Jaylon Griffin with 2:31 to go, only to lose 47-43 on a fourth-down reverse pass with 33 seconds remaining. On Saturday, Huntsville finally gets its long-awaited shot at redemption.
“A lot of these guys played in that game a year ago ... and to go from the highest high to the lowest low, they haven't forgotten that,” Huntsville head coach Rodney Southern said. “I don't think it plays a big factor in the game itself, but that experience is obviously critical in a game like this.”
“We want to get revenge back on them, especially because of how it ended,” added senior safety Jaden Schroeder.
The Hornets aren’t dwelling on last year’s defeat, but they’ve made no secret that it’s been a source of motivation ever since that fateful night at Cy-Fair FCU Stadium in Cypress. And that isn’t the only factor driving this team.
After beginning the year as the District 10-5A favorite, Huntsville entered the playoffs as the league’s No. 4 seed. The Hornets’ confidence has only built from this moment, dominating District 9 champion Marshall on the road 35-12 in the first round before holding off Crosby 54-44 for an area championship last week.
As Matthew Southern — now a senior looking to keep his high school career alive — isn’t shy to acknowledge, the Hornets are “as confident as ever” heading into Saturday’s rematch.
“Coming out to practice everyday, it's not, 'This is the last week of football,'" he said. "We still have three more weeks after this.”
BEST OF THE BEST
FB Marshall features a two-headed monster in the backfield, consisting of a pair of seniors with blinding speed. Quarterback Malik Hornsby is a four-star recruit with a bevy of Power 5 offers, while running back Devon Achane is a Texas A&M commit that recorded the 100th touchdown of his career last week.
The duo is also part of a relay team that recorded the fastest 4x100-meter time in the country last season.
“They're two of four guys on a national champion sprint relay team, so obviously those guys are in a category of themselves in terms of speed. If you give either one of those guys a crease, they're going to hurt you,” Coach Southern said.
'ONE OF TWO'
It’s not just the players that have last year’s playoff defeat fresh on their minds. Coach Southern noted earlier this week that the loss is ‘one of two’ in his career that he revisits the most.
“It's probably one of two,” he said. “We lost a state championship game in '04 to Ennis when I was the head coach at Marshall in the last 11 seconds. We dominated statistically but the one category we didn't win was the scoreboard.
“That one hurts everyday because we snapped the ball over the punter's head ... and then of course that game last year was second for a couple reasons. To come back from down 20 against a team that is athletically as good as any you're going to see, and the fact that my son was a big part of the highest of the high, then to go from that to the lowest of the low, you don't forget that.”
SAME, BUT DIFFERENT
While many key contributors returned from last season, the Hornets feel like a different team than the one that fell to FB Marshall in the 2018 state quarterfinals.
The greatest difference? Ask any player, and the answer always seems to come back to confidence.
“We're more confident in our game,” Schroeder said. “Last year was our first year when we really knew our ability and found out how good we actually are. This year, we have more expectations on ourselves, and go into each game knowing we have the ability to keep playing.”