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Finishing with flair: Decatur proves it’s not how you start

By Reece Waddell | Published Wednesday, December 5, 2018
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Winning together

WINNING TOGETHER – Decatur players celebrate the Eagles’ bi-district victory over Dumas. Decatur will play Hereford in the 4A Division I quarterfinals Friday. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

As non-district play wrapped up at the end of September, Decatur entered its open week on the heels of a brutal 70-28 loss to Glen Rose to drop it to 1-4.

For Mike Fuller and his staff, the bye could not have come at a better time.

“Our theme was basically to hit the reset button,” Fuller said. “You call in because your DirecTV is messing up or you call IT because your computer is messing up, the first thing they tell you is turn it off and turn it back on. [We said] ‘Let’s just start over.'”

The Eagles didn’t have much to lose.

Reece Waddell

Decatur surrendered 56.2 points and 551.4 yards per game during non-district, leaving it scrambling for answers on the defensive side of the ball. Offensively, the Eagles’ usual up-tempo, high-flying offense was sputtering.

The week off at the beginning of October gave coaches and players a chance to regroup and go back to the drawing board.

It paid off, and the Eagles started turning a corner.

While district play was not smooth sailing, Decatur did enough to position themselves to make the playoffs. The Eagles finished fourth in District 4-4A Division I, and with a favorable region, looked to make a run in the postseason.

With a win last week over 4-4A-I champion Hirschi in the regional round, Decatur joined the 1975 and 1988 teams as the only squads in school history to advance to the fourth round of the postseason.

“If I told you I was fully confident we’d be here all year long I’d be lying,” Fuller said. “We just haven’t panicked. At one point in the year, the one thing we knew for sure we could do [as coaches] was show the kids how a man reacts when it’s going bad.”

Each of Decatur’s non-district opponents qualified for the playoffs in 2017. The Eagles opened the season on the road against Kennedale – last year’s 4A DI runner-up – and also played Midlothian Heritage and Graham.

Decatur’s only non-district win came in week two against Alvarado.

“Being battle-tested and going through the fire like that – it’s humbling,” Fuller said. “What’s funny for me is the three best playoff runs I’ve ever been a part of have been with regular season records of 5-5, 6-4 and 4-6. I think the deal is when you get there, you know you have flaws. You know you can be beat and know you aren’t invincible. You’re not going to overlook anything or slip up.”

So far this postseason, Fuller and his Eagles haven’t.

Despite being underdogs in each playoff game, Decatur has knocked off District 3-4A I champion Dumas as well as 4-4A I foe Hirschi. It’s the farthest the Eagles have gone in the playoffs in more than a decade, and many believe their tough non-district schedule is a reason why they are still playing.

“I honestly believed it helped us a lot,” said junior running back Gunner Ragsdale. “It not only made us better, but it motivated us to do better. We came out better as a team.”

Decatur enters Friday’s 4A Division I quarterfinal against Hereford with a 7-6 record – the first time they have been above .500 all season.

But for Fuller and the Eagles, it’s not about how you start – it’s how you finish.

“We talk about it all the time. People forget pretty fast how you started,” Fuller said. “If we can win this game we’ll join the [1975 and 1988] teams as semifinalists. Once you get there, anything can happen.”

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