SPORTS HEADLINES

Upset kings: Underdog Eagles meet heavyweight La Vega

By Reece Waddell | Published Wednesday, December 12, 2018
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Breaking away

BREAKING AWAY – Decatur junior A.J. Martinez eludes tacklers during the Eagles’ 38-28 win over Hereford in the Class 4A Division I quarterfinal. Decatur will face Waco La Vega in the 4A Division I semifinal Friday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

There’s a photo from the 2000 Class 5A area playoff game between Coppell and Desoto near Decatur coach Mike Fuller’s desk.

Fuller’s Cowboys entered the tilt with a Desoto team led by future NFL star Ellis Hobbs as 30-point underdogs. But by the end of the night, Coppell had pulled off the stunner of the year, coming away with a 31-28 victory.

“I’ve kept that photo because it reminds me that there’s always a way to win, no matter who you’re playing,” Fuller said.

Now more than ever, Fuller and Decatur will draw inspiration from that photo.

The Eagles are 17-point underdogs in the 4A Division I semifinal against Waco La Vega and will meet a Pirates team that sent previously undefeated Argyle home last week. La Vega is 12-2 and the No. 1 team in Harris’ 4A Division I rankings. The Pirates have outscored their playoff opponents 198-55.

Decatur is 8-6 and has won four straight since ending the regular season 4-6 overall and finishing fourth in District 4-4A I. The two schools will square off at 4 p.m. Friday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

“We’re here and are super thrilled about being here, but we’re completely intending to win this game,” Fuller said. “That’s what sports are [about]. You see it all the time. Anything can happen.”

La Vega is led on offense by senior John Richards, who ran for 217 yards and four touchdowns in the Pirates’ 31-14 win over Argyle last week. La Vega has racked up nearly 5,000 yards on the ground this season, wearing down opponents to the tune of 359.9 rushing yards per game.

The Pirates average 45.6 points.

“They’re incredibly athletic and play really hard,” Fuller said. “They’re definitely the most athletic team we’ve seen this year, maybe ever. I can’t think of one team that’s more athletic since I’ve been here. All their skills guys are fast, and all their lineman are big and strong.”

La Vega completed only one pass against Argyle but Fuller said the Pirates have playmakers on the outside capable of stretching the field.

Looking for room

LOOKING FOR ROOM – Decatur junior Gunner Ragsdale follows his blocker during the Eagles’ 38-28 win over Hereford in the Class 4A Division I quarterfinal. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Decatur has been stout against the run during its playoff push, including limiting Hirschi all-state back Daimarqua Foster to 114 yards – his lowest total of the season. After giving up more than 50 points and 500 yards per game during the regular season, the Eagles’ defense has not allowed more than 28 points in the playoffs.

The past four weeks, Decatur has forced 12 turnovers and is plus 10 in the turnover margin.

“We’re going to need to protect the football and be patient,” Fuller said. “We’re going to need to create a turnover or two. We have to stay in the moment the whole time.”

It will be Decatur’s first appearance in the state semifinals since 1988, when the Eagles fell to Southlake Carroll 23-0. Decatur’s 1975 team also advanced to the state semifinal, but no Decatur team has made it to the state final.

“It’s been a blast. It’s really rewarding to see these kids develop more and more confidence as we go,” Fuller said. “They really are doing it for the guy beside them. You can tell, they aren’t playing for themselves. They’re playing for a cause.

“Every team is special, I love every team I’ve ever coached, but this team has really captured the hearts of a lot people – including their coach.”

CLASS 4A DIVISION I SEMIFINAL
Decatur (8-6) vs.
Waco La Vega (12-2)
4 p.m. Friday AT&T Stadium
Tickets:
$12 online at https://seatgeek.com/4a-5a-semifinals-2018-uil-football-playoffs-tickets/football/2018-12-14-12-pm/4662305
$15 at door
Parking:
$10 per car with credit card
$15 per car with cash

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