The San Marcos High School football team has taken a large step forward this year. Even if it ends Friday night, the Rattlers will win four games this season, twice as many as they’ve won in the last three seasons combined. And they’ve put November back on the football calendar after so many years in which the season was done in September.
If it all ends Friday night, and the Rattlers lose at New Braunfels Canyon, that’s how their season will be defined. It’s a big step forward, going from one win to four, maybe not as big as the step up from four wins to seven, but it is unquestionably progress. And getting into the playoffs is better than playing to get into the playoffs, but playing to get into the playoffs is what the regular season is about, and that’s back now.
If, however, the Rattlers can push back and pull it off against a very good Canyon team to win a playoff berth, then this San Marcos team becomes something of a miracle team, perhaps diluted to the extent that the playoffs are diluted, but the playoffs take care of that and show us how diluted with their first-round blowouts. Sometimes a team that’s admitted just because the system is generous can put up a pretty good fight, and it becomes harder to say that team didn’t belong in the playoffs.
The Rattlers are 4-5 overall and 1-3 in District 25-5A entering Friday’s game, which kicks off at 7:30 p.m. in New Braunfels. In addition to a playoff berth, the Rattlers are playing for a non-losing regular season, which they haven’t had since 2007.
If New Braunfels defeats Judson Friday night, then the winner between San Marcos and Canyon would take the district’s fourth playoff spot. If New Braunfels and Canyon win, then they are the third and fourth playoff teams. But if New Braunfels loses and San Marcos wins, then they, along with Canyon, would be 2-3 in the district, and it would go to tiebreakers.
Under that scenario, the outlook is grim for San Marcos. The district uses a positive points tiebreaker, combining all the scores between the teams tied, with a cap of 21 points per game. Because Canyon beat New Braunfels, 27-7, and New Braunfels beat San Marcos, 24-7, Canyon is plus-20 and New Braunfels is minus-three, while San Marcos is minus-17. So, the Rattlers have to beat Canyon by 15 to beat New Braunfels in that tiebreaker.
Canyon is 6-3 overall and 2-2 in the district, a very good football team. It’s true that Canyon is fighting to get into the playoffs and could be left out entirely if it doesn’t win Friday night. It’s rather a surprising position for Canyon to be in after looking at all the team stats. Canyon leads the district in rushing offense, rushing defense, total defense and scoring defense, according to the San Antonio Express-News. If all you knew about Canyon were those facts, you would expect it to be leading the district.
But all three of Canyon’s losses have come against ranked teams, two of them in the district. So, it’s tough out there. Two weeks ago, the Cougars were unbeaten in District 25-5A and they had a chance to seize it with games coming against Smithson Valley (No. 8 by Texas Football) and Converse Judson (20). But both opponents registered solid victories, and now the Cougars must fend off San Marcos just to preserve a playoff berth.
For the Rattlers, getting to this final game of the season with this much at stake has become something of an achievement, not just because it’s been so long, but because they’ve also been on the field with Smithson Valley and Judson, and that can make the playoffs look pretty far away.
But the Rattlers won the game they needed last Friday at Bobcat Stadium, where they dropped San Antonio Wagner, 33-22. The win gave San Marcos a win in the district season, and you always know going into a six-team district that two wins there should put you into the playoffs.
San Marcos and Canyon both have lost soundly to Judson and Smithson Valley. The Rattlers, a little more soundly. Judson scored the first 44 points against the Rattlers in a 72-18 win, and it also scored the first 38 against Canyon in a 38-10 win. Smithson Valley scored the first 48 against San Marcos in a 55-7 win, and it scored the first 14 against Canyon in a 23-6 win.
The pattern of scores suggests that Canyon is a bit more than a cut beneath the ranked teams, and a cut better than the Rattlers. But the pattern can change with every game.
The Rattlers gave a solid performance against Wagner (0-4, 0-9). Defensively, they allowed only 250 yards. Offensively, they totalled 403 yards, 220 of them through the air and 183 on the ground. Much in the fashion of early this season, Jonoah Fabian carried 20 times for 116 yards and two touchdowns. Tucker Smith completed 12 of 20 passes. Zach Sterling made six catches for 71 yards and a touchdown.
Canyon relies almost entirely on the run, passing just often and well enough to make defenses be honest. Gibreel Evans is the district’s leading rusher, and has been all year, bringing 989 rushing yards to the final regular season game. Evans was considerably slowed down by Judson and Smithson Valley, gaining a combined 116 yards in 33 carries against those teams.
Canyon quarterback Philip Shelton has completed at least half of his passes in only one district game, hitting seven of 11 in a 45-7 win against Wagner. In his other three district games, Shelton is a combined 16 of 33. But he’s a weapon as a runner, ranking fourth in the district with 558 rushing yards.
Obviously, the Rattlers are going to have to curtail the Canyon running attack. It happens that the Rattlers are last in the district in rushing defense (215.0), passing defense (179.4) and total defense (395.2).
But they’ve come to the final game of the regular season with a chance. It’s progress. It might even be playoffs.