Football: Tough schedule pays off for Eagles

By Reece Waddell | Published Wednesday, December 6, 2017
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Uplifting Season

UPLIFTING SEASON – Decatur’s Ridge Burden lifts Wilson Hicks into the air after a touchdown. The pair will return next season. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Some say there is no such thing as a moral victory in sports.

So, when Decatur was knocked out of the playoffs by Wichita Falls Hirschi last week in the 4A Division I Region I semifinal, it was understandable the Eagles weren’t exactly in the best of moods. It was the second time Decatur lost to Hirschi this season, and meant the Eagles would finish the year at 8-5.

While not the best record on paper, Decatur’s 8-5 mark does not tell the whole story of the Eagles’ season. In fact, there’s something vital every Decatur fan needs to remember.

Those five losses came against Midlothian Heritage, Argyle, Stephenville and Hirschi – twice. Combined, these schools have a record of 46-6. Although they’re now out of the playoffs, Midlothian Heritage and Argyle both finished the regular season undefeated. Meanwhile, Stephenville and Hirschi will square off in the region final Friday.

“The good thing about it is we have five examples of the kind of team that it takes to [move on]. It’s not like some mythical team out there you’ve never seen or felt,” said Decatur coach Mike Fuller after last week’s loss to Hirschi. “At least we know what they’re like. Some of [the losses] early [in the season] we had chances in. We just have to play better in these kinds of games.”

It may be easy to become fixated on the Eagles’ losses, but Decatur picked up quality wins this season – especially in the playoffs.

The Eagles knocked off Abilene Wylie, the 4A runner-up from a year ago, in the bi-district round before toppling a 9-2 Andrews team in the area game. In fact, this was the first time under Fuller Decatur advanced to the third round of the playoffs.

And it’s no coincidence it happened the season Decatur played one of the most grueling schedules in 4A.

“Everyone knows we played the toughest teams in the state right now,” said senior linebacker Braxton Roth after last week’s loss. “Coach Fuller did a great job of making our schedule, playing the best teams so we could play this deep in the playoffs. After we realized the level we were going to have to compete at I think we stepped it up as a group.”

The Eagles won five consecutive games from Oct. 20 to Dec. 1, mowing down Gainesvillle, Burkburnett, Sanger, Abilene Wylie and Andrews before being cut down by Hirschi. During that span, Decatur’s offense flourished, averaging 60.4 points per game.

Although the Eagles will graduate more than 25 seniors – many who were key to Decatur’s late run – they will get back several key pieces next year.

Junior quarterback Wilson Hicks is one of those pieces, and was arguably the most instrumental figure in the Eagles’ playoff push. After a slow start to the season, Hicks came on strong late, throwing for 1,630 yards and 21 touchdowns against just four interceptions during Decatur’s five-game winning streak.

“I’m just so proud of our team,” Hicks said after last Friday’s loss. “What we’ve been through, the first two games in district didn’t go how we planned, [but] we turned it around and got like five wins in a row. It just shows what kind of character we have here.”

Even though the Eagles ultimately came up short, this season is undoubtedly a stepping stone for the program. They may have struggled out of the gate, but when the calendar flipped to November and eventually December, Decatur was gelling at the right time.

You can thank their tough schedule for that.

“We got to play a December football game,” Fuller said. “It’s something that’s not been done in a long time in Decatur. We had a chance to do what only a few teams have done, win three playoff games.”

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